In the wake of the devastating nuclear meltdown at the Chernobyl power plant in 1986, the abandoned city of Pripyat, Ukraine has become something of a contaminated wildlife preserve. While a number of radiation-mutated animals have been spotted, seemingly healthy populations of boars, lynxes, bears, horses and other species are now thriving in the forests that have sprung up in former yards and parks.
The Decaying Houses of Detroit, Michigan
In Detroit, which has seen entire neighborhoods crumble in the face of economic woes, visitors can see trees growing right out of the roofs of houses. Google Street View cameras have enabled year-by-year comparisons, showing dramatic declines as manicured lawns transform into vibrant meadows and the city’s suburban architectural begin to cave in under the weight of so much vigorous wild life.
Chippewa Lake Park, Ohio
It’s been over 30 years since thrillseekers squealed with delight on the wooden roller coasters at Ohio’s Chippewa Lake Park. Now, there’s a tree growing straight out of the ferris wheel, vines have strangled the tracks of ride after ride, and the park’s signature coaster is barely visible among a rapidly growing forest. Shame really.
Abandoned Railway in Paris, France
Decommissioned in 1934, the Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture railway circling through the city of Paris is an unusual example of prime urban real estate left to rot as city officials decide what to do with all of the tracks, bridges and tunnels that remain off-limits to the public. This section of railway was made obsolete by the success of the metro, and while some sections have been made into public parks, others have simply surrendered to a profusion of uncontrolled flora and fauna.
North Brother Island, New York
It’s hard to believe that this overgrown island full of decaying brick buildings is located just minutes from busy Manhattan. North Brother Island, in the East River, was home to Riverside Hospital between the 1880s and 1930s, caring for hundreds of patients infected with communicable diseases like smallpox, scarlet fever, typhus and leprosy. The infamous ‘Typhoid Mary’ was quarantined and eventually died here. Abandoned since 1963, the complex has fallen into irreversible ruin, with vines overtaking the exteriors. Inside, explorers can allegedly still find medical records and equipment.
Abandoned Mall in Thailand
In the two decades since it closed its doors, Thailand’s New World Mall has experienced some jaw-dropping deterioration, including a devastating fire that took out its roof. After this, rainwater began accumulating inside until the entire place became a veritable aquarium, creating a nightmare mosquito breeding ground that locals sought to counter with larvae-eating koi. Naturally, the koi began to multiply. Now, the abandoned mall is a tourist attraction in its own right as visitors purchase food from nearby kiosks to feed the fish.
Botanic Gardens Railway Station, Scotland
Silent since World War II, this abandoned underground subway station hides in plain sight at Glasgow’s 19th century Botanic Gardens, a popular tourist attraction. Located close to the main entrance, these platforms now host freely-growing greenery rather than the bustle of trains and passengers. They can be glimpsed from open ventilation shafts, and though they’re off-limits to the public, some urban explorers managed to get inside to take photos and, regrettably, tag the old brickwork.
Hashima Island, Japan
What looks from afar like a warship in the middle of the ocean off Nagasaki, Japan is actually Hashima Island, otherwise known as Gunkanjima. Built to mine coal in the 1800s, it once housed 5,259 workers— and is sturdy enough to withstand typhoon—but the switch to petroleum power in the 20th century led to its closure. For decades, public access has been forbidden, but the government recently sanctioned tours of limited parts of the island.
We don’t have to wonder what the world might look like if humans were to go extinct, leaving behind the ruins of our civilizations to be retaken by nature. Hundreds of abandoned sites around the world give us a glimpse of what would happen after our own potential demise, with trees, vines and all manner of wildlife flourishing in places that once housed and entertained us not so long ago. These eight examples show just how rapidly the natural world can reclaim what we’ve built, from a mall filled with multiplying fish to the decaying ruins of Detroit’s manufacturing past.