Why is it so hard for us humans to let go? We're obsessed with preserving the things we love—even when logic tells us it's time to move on. One large scale example of this irrational behaviour: The billions spent to move entire towns out of harm's way.
Humans have moved since they had agency to, but the ability to move entire permanent structures is only as old as modernity. But since the 1900s, dozens of instances of "structural location" have occurred, often at a massive scale. In some cases, it's to make room for highways or dams. In others, it's a crisis spurred by aggressive mining of land around the town. In still others, it's sheer preservation—move a structure and protect it from demolition.
Either way, the feats of engineering that result are nothing short of incredible. Check out a few highlights, below.
Reported widely online over the past few years, Kiruna is the northernmost town in Sweden—and it's currently caving in. Thanks to over-mining in the world's largest ore depository located directly below it, city officials are now tasked with moving the town, piece by piece, 2.5 miles east. The entire undertaking has already cost roughly £330 million—and that number is likely to double.
Turns out there's precedent for Kiruna's debacle. In the late 1910s, the Minnesota town of Hibbing was relocated two miles south because of unstable ground—caused by the town's burgeoning iron mine. But unlike Kiruna, the people of Hibbing had far fewer resources to get the job done: Just horses, tractors, and and a steam crawler. And plenty of human hands, of course.
A more common reason to move entire towns? The construction of reservoirs and dams. Though governments usually end up paying inhabitants to abandon their homes in the face of a new dam, there are also a few examples of whole settlements being relocated. For instance, there's Tallangatta, a southern Australian town that was moved in the 1950s to make way for the expansion of the massive Hume dam.
Image via Aussie Musing.
The Great Storm of 1900—aka the Hurricane of 1900—battered Galveston, Texas with Category 4 winds during what is still the deadliest hurricane in US history. But after the storm, some homeowners found an ingenious way to preserve what the could of their original homes—by raising them up on stilts and rebuilding whatever was underneath. According to Science Friday, some buildings were raised as high at 17 feet above their original foundations—and many took advantage of the change to add new porches and stairs to their homes.
Apparently, even the church was raised—after the storm caused severe damage. Thanks to the labour of 100 men who worked to raise the church, bit by bit, for 35 days, workers were able to pour a new foundation and save the original structure.
Residents of this small Kentucky town are part of an unprecedented deal with their local airport. In the mid-1990s, noise from the nearby jet engines forced many residents to consider taking cash to relocate. But instead, they struck up an unusual agreement: They'd let the regional airport buy the entire town (all 552 households, plus a police station) and move residents into a newly-built development five miles away, which mimicked the original in terms of design. That way, The New York Times explained, they could all stay together.
Image by deadrichmond.
Morococha sits in the shadow of a mountain holding what may be the world's richest supply of copper—making it a prime target for metal-hungry miners the world over. Unregulated mining has left parts of the town a veritable toxic waste site—so when a Chinese mining conglomerate, Chinalco, took control, it set into motion a plan to move the entire settlement away from the site. The New City of Morococha lies five miles away from the old toxic site—now being demolished.