One drives by a ruin, such as an old, abandoned barn or a dilapidated factory, and experiences a mood.
You might spend a few seconds imagining the building intact, in the prime of its life, bustling with purpose, so long ago now. Or you might see in the quiet of ruin a kind of pact between the strivings of man and the implacable reassertion of nature – a truce in which remnants of spirit are permitted only a bit longer to stand.
One also wonders why nobody kept it up. What led people to neglect it? Surely, with routine attention, it would have continued to be useful. But instead, somebody let it fall into disrepair, gradually leaning, cracking, gaping, while vines insinuate themselves and pigeons roost in its shadow.
One asks who might want it now, in its current condition. Can it be recovered, restored, cleaned up, put back into circulation? Even if it were possible, who in the world has the patience, who has the time, who has the money? Often, it would be cheaper just to raze what’s left of the structure and start over.
Here at the university, we tore down a perfectly functional office building in order to replace it with a newer one – one that matched the architectural style of the rest of the campus. In a climate of economic hardship, other universities are cutting salaries, cutting programs, pinching pennies, but we clawed apart something just to build a better one. We call it progress.
Part of the lure of the American frontier was the chance to start over, to sell your farm, pack up your belongings, and head west. The frontier promised a new start, a fresh landscape on which to build and plow and graze. We could move on and never give a second thought to ruin. But today the frontier is officially disappeared, unless you count the moon. We drive by our ruins, rather than simply leaving them behind.