When the world ends, our cities will crumble and be reclaimed by nature. At least, that’s the popular image. But you don’t need to wait for the apocalypse to see how things will crumble. You don’t even need to leave civilization—there are plenty of glimpses of the post-apocalyptic world hidden right among us.
10 Public School 186
It would be impossible for Manhattan’s Public School 186 to be any more in the middle of civilization. Businesses are open across the street, there isn’t a free parking space in sight, and people stroll by nonchalantly. It’s boarded up, but it’s the trees growing out of the windows which give away the fact that no one has used the building for over 40 years. Inside, piles of rubble and scattered animal corpses complete the look.
The school was opened in 1903 but ran into problems in the early 1970s. Its floor plan didn’t meet fire safety codes and the ground floor doors had to remain open at all times to ensure that children couldn’t be trapped. Those open doors soon led to problems. Criminals robbed parents at knifepoint and a teacher’s aide was raped in a classroom. When fire inspectors found that the fire alarm didn’t work in 1972, the school was marked for closure. It shut down in 1975.
The building was due to be renovated in the 1980s, but the Boys and Girls Club of Harlem that bought it decided to demolish the building and start again. Residents petitioned to save the building, but the owners say that it would be too expensive. While they battle it out, the building continues to look increasingly like a set from I Am Legend.
9 North Brother Island
Located just half a kilometer (.3 mi) from Manhattan in New York’s East River is a bird sanctuary known as North Brother Island. In the 1880s, people with infectious diseases were quarantined there at the Riverside Hospital. Its most famous resident was Typhoid Mary, who died on the island in 1938. The island later housed veterans from World War II and was the base of a drug treatment center. In 1964, the last people left and it was closed to the public.
A few people have been let back onto the island between September and March when the birds aren’t nesting. Among the thick vegetation that now covers the island are huge brick buildings, bungalows, and a chapel. One classroom still has dozens of old books scattered across the floor. The buildings are all slowly being hidden by trees and ivy.
Christopher Payne, a photographer who was given permission to visit the island, described it as “what would happen if people left the planet.” He described the atmosphere as a sense of being disconnected from the rest of the world, though it turned out to be impossible to forget how close the rest of New York City was. “I could hear the Mister Softee truck sometimes,” he said.
8 Miami Marine Stadium
Naumachia were mock naval battles that took place in flooded coliseums in ancient Rome. Gladiatorial combat is a staple of post-apocalyptic fiction (you can thank Mad Max 3). So if you want to host your own dystopian naumachia, Miami’s Marine Stadium is the perfect venue.
The 6,600 seat arena was opened in the 1960s as a venue for speedboat racing. It was closed in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew and has since become a haven for graffiti artists and freerunners. It’s an imposing, poured-concrete structure. The stadium’s designer said that he had intended to create “a piece of sculpture on the water reflecting on what nature was providing us.”
There’s debate over what to do with the stadium. The Friends of Miami Marine Stadium want to see it cleaned up and returned to use. Others believe it should be left as it is, a monument to the graffiti artists who have adopted it over the decades.