The abandoned

Update, May 14, 2020: Added figure 1.

Some of the very sad things I see as I drive around the Pittsburgh area are abandoned houses (example, figure 1). Some were just ordinary houses. But some were really, once upon a time, quite grand.

Fig. 1. Abandoned houses in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Photograph by author, May 14, 2020.

I hear and see a number of stories. Some houses suffered fires. I’ve been told that some are abandoned when taxes come due and it takes too long for the county to claim and dispose of the properties.

One woman eschewed the word ‘eviction.’ She’d lived in what she described as a charming home, been ordered to evacuate, and subject to a battery of medical tests. The culprit? Mold.

Her landlord, she said, told her he didn’t have the money to do what needed doing. So yet another house in McKeesport would be abandoned while she scrambled to find another place to live.

There’s at least one neighborhood in Wilkinsburg that you can still tell was, once upon a time, a lovely neighborhood with tree-lined streets. The houses remain, overgrown, in ruins.

I was thinking of all this driving through McKeesport this afternoon as I turned past a cemetery with grandiose monuments. Rich—very rich—people had indeed lived here. Once upon a time.

Now, there are entire blocks where house after house after house has been abandoned. Those weren’t the blocks I drove down today. Even so, I noticed abandoned houses interspersed with houses that are still occupied.

As I was driving someone to the approach to the Liberty Tunnel from Saw Mill Run Road, there was a homeless guy with a sign. He wants work and anything will help.

But oh yeah, capitalism. And the recession[1] hasn’t even really hit yet.

  1. [1]Jim Tankersley and Ben Casselman, “Washington Weighs Big Bailouts to Help U.S. Economy Survive Coronavirus,” New York Times, March 18, 2020,

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