The End: Unbuilding the City
A true story swallowed by a myth.
A city battles death. Residents flocked to the city in a flurry, accepting the dire state as-is. Instead of pretending the prognosis was bright and a future could meet with forever, the residents decided to give their final days in this place. The city became the space ushering life into death, an architecture of the liminal. It housed the residents until the last one left the earth, and the city became terra nullius. This is The End, a day in the life of a dying city.
Dusk. An evening star casts a pink glow onto what remains. To speak of remains is to remind us of what came before: cars and trucks bellowing their horns, the smog and haze of production and consumption: rush hour, takeaway, New York minute, meetings that could have been an email, single-use plastic. A twenty-four seven, wash cycle with no end in sight. In the city, the days start at nightfall, which translates over to many names given by visitors: sunset city, last stop, concrete graveyard. By marking the beginning of a day, the evening emerges youthful rather than a contract to finish.
Twilight. The song of frogs and crickets marks the space between sunset and rise. Lights are dimmed, stars are visible, and when the moon joins the sky, it is the strongest lamp on the street.
Midnight. People move from place to place with ease. They walk and talk amongst themselves. Night owls thrive in the city knowing they are not alone, no longer regulated to a diurnal life. In these hours, one can walk along at night with a sense of calm. In the city, safety is guaranteed through oaths and codes of respect woven into the leftover material. Alone does not mean loneliness. Those who are sleeping sleep in peace, unaware of their neighbors strumming and humming throughout the night.
First Light. The birds are the alarm clock of a mass of people choosing to make their way into a sun-drenched system. This is the older way, rising with the sun and charting all activities with the source of heat at bay. When it rains, the sound is dampened, but the city still moves and shakes.
Sunrise. One cry goes out, and echoes down an alleyway. A survey of bodies occurs each morning, to count those who have chosen to leave. It is mid-day, the start of the sun’s control.
Morning. A funeral procession goes by with remnants of a New Orleans flavor. The celebration of life and acceptance of death is a daily occurrence in the city. In the streets, the accompanying music and generous outcome for the parade almost masks the casket hovering overhead. Candles are left on altars. Trees are planted on the graves. Fresh dirt mounds the former sites of grocery stores, shopping malls, arcades, dry cleaners, libraries, schools, and houses. Mourning is for the morning.
Noon. Buildings are oriented to receive nature’s full force. The residents deconstruct leftover spaces and make piles of material. In the amplified crises of climate, the city learns about powers that cannot be controlled by building up, and the decision to build-down is codified.
Golden Hour. Arms of trees and appendages of the constructed bodies move onto the ground. The forest is a space of sanctuary. A flock leaves the forest and thanks the trees for their time and space. Some choose to sleep here every evening and stay to mark a ground safe for their nightly intervention of bed-making. Others want the warm embrace of a heated house. A few choose eternal sleep and walk their last steps here, sit, and remain unmoved until a last breath.
Sunset. When orbs meet and space collapses, a bright showcase of weather appears in the atmosphere. This city loses its residents intentionally. In the retreat into smaller, managed circles, the abandonment of an instant life is replaced with a network of temporality and care. The spaces decrease over time, removing themselves from the nature it borrowed ground from in the first place. The city is a sunset for all cities, preparing to dip into the earth again.
Castles will burn, basements will flood. After the scorch comes a green so bright it renews any lost faith in the territory. The green needs light, air, soil, and water to live, not that different from its human inhabitants. What happens when the city gives itself back to the territory, at first in pieces, and then suddenly by whole?
In thirty years, there will be no city. All residents will stay in the earth or choose to wander to a different node of a larger network still bound by a hyperactive way of living. They will remember the peace and quiet. The city exists only in memory.