Beautiful Ruin: Exfoliation of the Divine

Something that Pittsburgh "does" exceedingly well as a city is to have truly beautiful decay.

Broken windows, re-natured properties, rusting train tracks, all these things are of course terrible signs of the passage of time, the entropy of things, and the slow death of neighborhoods and lives. To the people who watched such places inside a city die over time, who saw the glory days and now see the destruction, such things are terrible.

But to come upon such a place knowing it only as a ruin is something different. Ruin seen without direct historical context is something humans find beauty in- just think of the Parthenon or the Pyramids- whose rounded edges and crumbling columns display proud scars of weather and chaos, cracks and breaks that show the ancient hand of time, that impress us rather than make us turn away.

The specifics of ruin- the way that concrete cracks and breaks and crumbles, the size-stages of a soon-to-be-rocks sidewalk, the tones and hues of rust, wet or dry, the varieties and shapes of plants that begin to grow through rooftops, the strange stew of plastic, metal, and organic trash that gathers in the corners and eddies around old courtyards- all of these shapes and forms are pregnant with meaning.

They stand in for whole webs of causality- how did the seeds for this specific plant end up in this exact sidewalk crack? Who left this ancient beer can? What kind of machine was this odd metal rust-ball part of? And even larger questions- How did this neighborhood die? Who specifically last lived in this apartment? Did they leave because the stairs caved in?

These objects drift together in the kind of striking pairings that only intense and lengthy neglect, combined with the elements, can produce. These discarded and abandoned places and objects have been given over to the City and the Land- no human force pushes or pulls them. It helps that most humans hate going to ruined parts of their own culture- most abandoned places are devoid of, well, stewards. They are some of the few places where one can be alone in the city, alone with the city. And sometimes it feels like through these ruins, the City speaks to you.

These feelings can be especially sharp when drifting- it feels as if the city has pulled you and these things and this place together specifically for your edification, especially if you are the only person around. The lay of the detritus, the broken angle of the rotting roofline, they are all signs just for you.

But doesn't decay also signal disease? Ill Health? Don't we think of Detroit, a city mostly-abandoned, as a failed city, a dead place?

Yes, yes, and yes. Decay is close to death. It is achingly beautiful, yes, but it is also a sign of change.

Is it the kind of change you want? Is it the kind of change the city needs? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes suburbs are unsustainable, and the healthy long-term thing is for the city to contract in area and rise in density. Sometimes industries die, and new industries must be found.

Ruin is thus a call to action- find what the city needs to right this ruin, and do it. Maybe it should be cleaned up and re-natured. Maybe it should be rebuilt. Maybe something in between. The ruin, and the city, will speak to you.

Go to the ruined places you know- the empty lots, the shuttered streets, the decaying industrial parks. Bring a friend. Explore! Look for the cracks in the pavement that are also cracks in reality!

As the Situationists once scrawled on walls across Paris,
Sous les pav├ęs, la plage!
Under the streets, the beach!

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Urbanomancy, megalopolisomancy, megapolisomancy, city magic, urban magic, urban occultism, neopagan, neo-pagan, urbomancy, Pittsburgh magic.