Architecture of a Recession: Abandoned Housing Developments

When we think of abandoned cities, most of us picture the old west ghost towns of the United States: desolate, dusty places where once life bustled and filled the streets with motion. But there’s another kind of abandoned place today, one that is underlined by the sad state of the current global economy. Housing developments that were once meant to be wonderful new homes for fortunate families now sit desolate and wait for nature to reclaim them.

This abandoned development in Rio Vista, California is perhaps the most visually impressive example of the American dream gone wrong. The 750 homes that were meant to be built here will likely never be realized, and the streets and sidewalks which were meant to support the development’s residents sit desolate and unused.

The development’s infrastructure was laid out and a handful of model homes built. Street lights and signs were erected, yards were plotted out…and then the money ran out. Construction was officially halted on November 20, 2008 due to a massive budget shortfall.

(Rio Vista images via: Dornob)

When the money ran out and the construction crews left, the carefully planned community began returning to its wild California roots. Partially-landscaped model home yards soon reverted to scrappy, dry, brown spaces. The homes themselves now sit abandoned and half-finished. For now, the project is on an indefinite hold while the city considers whether to declare bankruptcy.

Sadly, developments that don’t quite play out as planned aren’t at all a new phenomenon. A somewhat similar situation took place in the planned community of California City, California in the late 1950s. Nat Mendelsohn, a real estate developer and professor of sociology, embarked on a mission to found a city that would rival Los Angeles in size and population. He purchased 80,000 acres in the Mojave desert and started developing the land into a city.

(California City images via: BLDGBLOG)

The only problem was that residents didn’t flock to the planned community like Mendelsohn hoped. California City did attract some residents, and it boasts a healthy population today. But the mostly-undeveloped areas are spooky and resemble a post-apocalyptic wasteland. It’s composed of decaying city blocks and roads where, although they are all named, cars almost never go. Other parts of California City are very much inhabited, but these parts devoid of life paint out a kind of modern-day geoglyph in the desert sand.

Likewise, the Rotonda Sands neighborhood in Southern Florida did actually attract some residents – but it’s the homes that were abandoned mid-construction and the overgrown, empty lots that tell the rest of the story. Founded in the 1960s as a planned suburbian paradise, the Rotonda development should have flowered into a haven for families and retirees. But only about 3/4 of the development was ever truly developed. The remaining part was left to return to the Floridian wilderness.

(Rotonda Sands images via: Mental Floss)

The Rotonda development did enjoy a partial recovery in the early 2000s, when developers and homebuyers once again showed interest in building in the deserted part of the neighborhood. But the bursting of the housing market combined with the brutal hurricanes of 2004 once again halted the plans. Today, many of the lovely new homes are abandoned, and many more sit half-finished, simply providing shelter for the Florida wildlife that wanders the grounds.