Op-Ed.- Preserving Abandon Places

Posted on May 2, 2011

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 “Take a picture. It’ll last longer”: Preserving Abandon Places

Something so astonishing as Rossville’s boat yard is a relic worthy of remembering historically. A huge copper plaque should be cemented somewhere nearby saying why this wasteland is historically significant. And just for good measure, build a nice little historical center where visitors can get the whole low-down on its history before buying their souvenirs. But this is where I draw the line. Places such as the Rossville boatyard should be left just the way they are on the fact that you can’t display true magnificence of ruins on just its history. It’s the beauty of time and nature slowly reclaiming what was taken from it that must be appreciated. Such a place as Rossville’s boat yard should not be considered a place but rather, a phenomenon only preserved through experience by those curious enough to explore it.

So what deems a place historically significant and, how is something deemed historically protected? Well, according to the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission, the site or structure must have “architectural, historical or cultural” importance to New York City. To submit a certification form, anyone can go to nyc.gov and simply print and mail a completed form. If granted, then the site and its owners receive funding to make sure it stays preserved. But what about places that are the result of industrial pollution or vacant industries? Such is the case with places like Rossville, Staten Island’s boat graveyard.

Imagine a huge lot several acres in size, filled with mountains of old broken-down cars and other decommissioned machines of all shapes and sizes, slowly rotting away. Sound familiar? That’s right: a scrap yard, also known as a junkyard. If Rossville’s boatyard should be preserved for the history it carries, then why aren’t all land junkyards considered? We hate to see important history ignored, but there’re a couple factors playing out here. Land junkyards are more common. They’re also not as majestic as boats in water, which is one reason why it makes for such a great photo essay. Eventually, the boats will be stripped down for parts and any unwanted remaining scrap goes out to a land junkyard. Yet there’s something more important here worth preserving. Not physically preserving, but mentally. In fact, Rossville’s boat yard is rather a phenomenon than a place by the unexpected amount of imported history and beauty it holds. A place only to be experienced and remembered but never preserved.

It’s important to know that in order to deem a place ‘historically significant’ by the city, the area has to be allowed by its property owner. The case with the boatyard would be a tricky one considering it’s still part of a functioning scrap yard that is part of a business, Don Jon’s. Even without the business, how would someone go about deeming such an open and considerably dangerous space historically sanctioned within a quiet, faraway little suburb? It’s pretty sad to watch a boat with all its majestic qualities and historical significance slowly rust away. But we do live in a ‘sustainable’ era where we should be recycling junk, so why save it? Yet, I’m not arguing for the fact that it would be difficult to preserve and unsustainable. It would be ruining something different than history: its essence. This is something mostly urban explores and amateur historians truly know and feel.

To explain urban exploring of abandoned places, you must experience it for yourself. This peaceful, post-apocalyptic feeling that can make you feel as if a place has a soul, no longer having a purpose and apart from having an owner. Along with this are feelings of adventure and mysticism that cloud whatever has been forgotten. Like stumbling across the Mayan ruins but in a different, more contemporary sense. To me, I can’t help but brew stories of what something once was. Exploring the history is important, but why can’t something by appreciated for its mystery?

Growing up as an aspiring photographer in Pittsburgh, PA helped me appreciate the beauty of abandoned and decrepit places such as the old closed down steel mills, more so for the powerful scenes they once played out. The shapes, colors and textures that such places provide can lead artists to inspiration and enthusiasts in awe. Yet, the majority of society tends to ignore this beauty that’s replaced instead with fabricated, new materials. This is why abandoned places aren’t isolated and encased in glass for only the eyes to see but for anyone to experience, without a plaque and for all to become inspired by. The thrill of not knowing the factual history behind places before experiencing them, I find, is the best way to preserve not only its essence but also its mystery. Then again, is all factual history true? This is why I romanticize the ruins of the Rossville boat graveyard and all places like it.

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