They laid a highway a few years back Next town over by the railroad track Some nights I'm glad it passed us by Some nights I sit and watch my home town die
— Tift Merritt, "Laid a Highway"
A town that has lost its main reason for existing, or the support systems it needs to thrive. As a result, it's losing its inhabitants far faster than they're replaced. If this continues to its logical end, this community will become a Ghost Town.
Easily spotted by the number of buildings that are shuttered or boarded up, particularly on its main thoroughfare. The streets are nearly empty of vehicles, and the grass hasn't been cut around quite a few houses. If you ask, the inhabitants will tell you Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here. At least not since the rutabaga factory burnt down, or the hot springs dried up, or Bigville got the freeway exit.
Most of the inhabitants will be older folks, safely retired or desperately holding on to what few remaining paying jobs there are. There are relatively few younger adults—most have fled to greener pastures, and the remaining ones are either dedicated to something in the town or resent being trapped by obligations. The teenagers and children are likewise mostly interested in leaving as soon as they can manage it, and woe betide the kid whose parents inexplicably decide to move to Dying Town from the big city.
May be the hometown of a cast member, and a visit to it will explain a lot about her. Sometimes overlaps with Town with a Dark Secret, especially in the mystery and horror genres. A common plotline in more idealistic stories is for a new inhabitant to find some way of turning things around and restoring the town's prosperity, especially if it is a Close-Knit Community that can rally around him. A more cynical twist has the newcomer promising this to con the remaining inhabitants out of their meager savings.
Contrast Boom Town, which it may once have been.
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Anime & Manga
In the first Fullmetal Alchemist novel, as well as an episode or two of the anime, there is the town with the man trying to make philosopher's stones out of the red water.
The Expy of Venice in the 2003 anime version is dying in two senses - it's sinking under the water (and will be gone in a decade), which is causing people to leave it in droves. The only thing that brings any money to the town anymore is Psiren.
Tokyo 3, from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Most of the people fled after the first angel attack, leading to the tiny size of Shinji's class.
And unknown to them, Shinji's classmates are all potential Eva pilots, so even they're only there because NERV wants them on tap.
CGI film Vexille features this with the whole country of Japan being the victim.
In Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, Hinamizawa would have become this had the dam project gone through. In Saikoroshi-hen's 'Ideal World', the project was approved, emphasizing the fact that while everyone is relatively happier in this world, the True Companions have not been brought together by their respective problems, and will soon be separated for good.
Trigun has a number of these, due to Planet Gunsmoke's unforgiving environment. The best example is in the 2nd episode of the TV series, where a town is rapidly depopulating due to its aquifer drying up. It turns out a local robber-baron who lives on top of the aquifer was secretly draining it and storing the water in giant tanks, intending to sell it at a massive profit.
Ta'akan in With Strings Attached, becoming abandoned due to the restless Baravadans going to search for things to fight out of boredom.
Dimmsdale in the Burning Black series, due to Timmy Turner's death, the eight Dark Spires, and the declining fairy godparent population.
Jumanji: When Alan Parrish is trapped in the board game for 26 years, his father thinks he has run away (due to their last conversation being a fight), and thus puts all his time and efforts into finding him, closing his shoe factory in the process. When Alan is freed from the game by Judy and Peter, he finds his home town in dire straits, with people on the street, main street all but shuttered, and the rest of the town choked with big boxes and speedy burgers where churches used to be. At the end, time is reset, allowing Alan to prevent this by reconciling with his father and eventually taking over the family business.
By the end of Annie Hall, Annie is of the opinion that New York is one of these (and this film took place in The Seventies, when she was probably somewhat justified.) Alvy disagrees:
Alvy: You're not gonna come back to New York? Annie: What's so great about New York anyway? I mean, it's a dying city - you've read Death in Venice.
Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare touches on this slightly, with anyone in Springwood under 18 killed off by Freddy (which accounts for a very high percentage of the town population), the remaining adults have gone wacko as a result.
Gummo is an example of this trope. Set in Xenia, Ohio some time after a tornado nearly destroyed it. Dirty, overgrown, and abandoned, only the people who couldn't leave remain... a poverty stricken group of delinquents, mentally handicapped, and child molesters.
Perigord, the setting of the last half of Phantasm II, as it is yet to be fully razed by The Tall Man.
Hadleyville, PA in Gung Ho until the town succeeds in luring a Japanese company to reopen the town's shuttered car factory.
Heart of Glass by Werner Herzog revolves around a 18th century small town that is dependent on its glass factory. When the factory loses the secret recipe for red glass, the whole town goes angst-ridden with the threat of decline.
In Last Man Standing, the small town of Jericho has only a gas station, Bar/Hotel, Sheriff's office, Coffin Maker and two rivaling Gangs remaining. By the end of the movie, half of those are gone, too.
The Reaping: the entire town is slowly killed off one by one by the 10 plagues of Egypt which are brought upon them by a girl, because everyone in the town became cultists and turned their back on God, and they sacrificed every second born child to create The Antichrist. The girl was an angel sent by God to eliminate the entire town.
The Big Green has Elma, Texas, with bad student test scores and few employed citizens. Even the movie's programming guide says that the town is dying.
"Carrie": Although Chamberlin, Maine – the town Carrie ravages during her telekinetic-fueled revenge against a small group of high schoolers who had mercilessly bullied her, and others who had done nothing about it – is described as a virtual ghost town in the novel, it is more on its way to becoming one (thus fitting the trope) as there are still some locals who have remained. However, with the high school in ruins, nearly the entire junior and senior class dead (after having been killed in a huge fire Carrie sets on prom night) and hundreds more dead or feared dead, the town is shellshocked and goes into a catatonic state of mourning. In the aftermath, the town's industrial base is ruined (either having closed due to lack of work or the entire workforce quitting/leaving town) and people are moving from town ... multiple ones on a daily basis. The thriving city of Chamberlin virtually changes into a dying town within weeks, well on its way to a Ghost Town.
The last chapters of One Hundred Years of Solitude presents Macondo as one of those, after the banana boom ended tragically. It never becomes a full Ghost Town because a natural disaster hits hard at the end of the novel, completely destroying what little is left.
In other books by Gabriel García Márquez which share the Macondo setting, the town is usually in this stage.
The novel Casas Muertas by Venezuelan author Miguel Otero Silva, is set in a town which is half this, half Ghost Town, and strongly transistions to the latter during the story. The sequel, Oficina Nº 1, is set in the Boom Town where the protagonist moves after realizing that nothing can save her little town from dying.
American Gods: Shadow finds a lot of these on his road trip. He settles down for a time in one town that seems to be surprisingly immune to the economic ebb. He should have paid a bit more attention to that...
The Word and the Void: Hopewell, Illinois is a dying steel mill town peopled by the old, the broken, and those too young to leave yet. Several demonic invasions later it's still standing, but not by much. It says a lot about the setting that the demons and the feeders aren't the most depressing things about it.
Jean Shepherd gave this feeling to Hammond, Indiana in his collection of short stories, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.
Grantville in 1632, until it's teleported into the Thirty Years' War, and becomes the center of industrial development and government. Interestingly, this only lasts for about three years or so, and the new industry and government soon move back out to pre-existing German towns for reasons of geography and convenience, leaving Grantville as a center of education along with the nearby university town of Jena.
Branton Hills in Gadsby starts off stagnating, but it improves thanks to the title character.
Coalwood, West Virginia is the local setting for October Sky (originally named Rocket Boys), a real-life story about Homer Hadley Hickam Jr. and his dreams of becoming an Engineer for NASA.
The Lost Fleet series details a number of solar systems that had once been host to heavy traffic but have been bypassed by the time the titular fleet passes through because the Portal Network rendered the old mode of system-to-system hyperspace travel obsolete. Some of these systems have been completely abandoned, while others still have dwindling populations that lack the means to leave (there aren't any spaceships passing through anymore, after all).
Live Action TV
Dibley, in The Vicar of Dibley to the point where the birth of a child was celebrated with a statue of that child.
An example occurs on Bones in the Season 3 Episode "Baby in the Bough". The murdered woman is from a town, Huntsville, that is dying because the main bridge was destroyed cutting the town off from "the scenic route" and drying up all the tourism associated with it. After the murderer is caught, Bones saves the town by investing a large chunk of her recent advance for her next book into rebuilding the bridge and hiring project manager they met to run the project (she also decides that she might buy a vacation home there once the bridge is fixed).
The folk songs "Out From St Leonards" and "Farewell to the Rhondda" are about the demise of fishing in Newfoundland and mining in Wales, respectively.
"Ghost Town" by Shiny Toy Guns, despite its title, is about a Dying Town that hasn't yet reached Ghost status.
Similarly, "Ghost Town" by the Specials is about a Dying Town in 1980s Britain full of urban deprivation, violence and unemployment.
"Dry County", by Bon Jovi. The singer moves to the title town (or, at least, county) that springs up when oil is struck. Then the oil abruptly runs out, and he doesn't even have enough money left to get back home.
"Trickle Down" by Ani DiFranco deals with the predictable effect that a steel plant's closing has on a small town.
"Old Coyote Town" by Don Williams.
"Blue Collar Town" by David Goldman.
"Telegraph Road" by Dire Straits can be interpreted as this.
The opening fiction to the Promethean: The Created corebook takes place in a small town with very few members — they need to invite a psychologist in from out of town to interview a suspect. This is because most of the town has moved away — like in Centralia, PA, the coal veins underneath the town have caught fire and been burning for years. And would you believe Frankenstein's Monster did it?
The title town of Silent Hill is an odd inversion, since in-game dialogue from the first game suggests that Silent Hill might have been a dying town several years before the game takes place, but by the time that the series kicks in, it's a popular lake side destination for people to go on vacation.
In Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, the second game in The Longest Journey series, one discovers that the Venice district of Newport, where April Ryan (the first game's protagonist) lived has been ravaged by technological Collapse. Now, homeless people can be seen on every street, and the apartment complex where April lived is now run-down and used as a base for unscrupulous experiments. In Arcadia, the city of Marcuria has begun this process after the occupation by the Azadi, and their decision to segregate the city's conderable magic-user population and magical beings into ghettos, leaving several parts of the city abandoned.
Mars has become this in Mass Effect. According to the in-game codex, it was once considered ripe for terraforming, but mankind essentially lost interest when the Prothean mass relay was discovered and they began to spread across the galaxy and meet other races.
Inaba in Persona 4 has shades of this, several stores in the central shopping area are boarded up, with many of the residents blaming Junes (a megastore) for these businesses failing, and several high school NPCs comment that they're ready to jump ship and leave town once they reach college age.
If you save Broken Hills from a race war in Fallout 2, it trucks along fairly well...until the uranium mine runs out. It becomes a Dying Town, and eventually a Ghost Town.
Fallout: New Vegas has Goodsprings, which never truly picked up in the first place. Some endings have the town prospering, or at least gaining a semblance of normalcy while other endings have the town being abandoned by all but the most stubborn for fear of the Legion or massacred and left to die by the Courier.
Boulder is one too, having been bombed to hell during the first war with the Legion. Only a bartender and some soldiers are left.
Primm too, having hit by bandits recently. The NCR, independent and even some Legion endings ressurect the town to some extent.
Fallout 3 has the village of Arefu, which has all of four people left.
Andale has a close-knit community of seven, several of whom seem oblivious to the fact that the war happened. Given the... appetites of the locals, there's a reason why not more people move in. For long.
Skies of Arcadia gives us the ironically-titled "Esparanza." Built by sailors from all over the world, Esparanza was meant to be a port town or headquarters of sorts for sailors who wanted to take a crack at penetrating the seemingly-unpassable Dark Rift. Unfortunately, no one ever passed through the Rift, and everyone who came back from the trip were hollow shells of their former selves. It didn't take very long for the hope to wither...
Pyrite Town (and the base camp known as "The Under"), in Pokémon Colosseum was a former mining town, but with its mine dried up, it has fallen into a Wretched Hive.
Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura has Dernholm. In the backstory, it was the thriving capital of the nation of Cumbria, but when their king suddenly went mad with power and hatred of technology, he dragged Cumbria into a hopelessly one-sided war against the much better equipped nation of Tarant. When the player arrives at Cumbria in the game proper, it's lost nearly all of its power and prestige, and Dernholm itself is a barely held together village whose people desperately try to survive, but have little hope of doing so due to the king's ever-escalating insanity and his sickeningly depraved Guard Captain. Depending on the player's actions, Dernholm, and Cumbria and general, can begin a slow but sure path to recovery in the epilogue.
In Diablo, Tristram was going through this stage during the first game, what with the demonic invasion and slowly being bled dry by a steady wave of heroes drawn to the town by said demonic invasion. Then the town completely flatlined at some point before the second game.
Winterhold in Skyrim was once a grand, vibrant city that rivaled Solitude and Whiterun in sheer glamor and splendor. Then an earthquake sent 99.9% of the city (and indeed, the Hold itself) into the ocean. No one knows what exactly caused what became known as the Great Collapse, but many people, including the current Winterhold Jarl, believes that the Mage College is connected somehow. Ironically, the College itself is now the only reason anyone still cares about Winterhold. The replacement Jarl (if the Imperials win the Civil War) recognizes the reality of the situation and wants to foster good relations with the College.
Ivarstead is also dying a slow death. One man is reluctant to allow his daughter to go to Riften with her new paramour partly because Ivarstead will have no future if more of the younger generation leaves. The main attraction of Ivarstead is that it is the closest settlement to the mountain where the legendary Gray-beards reside.
Rapture in BioShock the entire city has been torn apart by a civil war between Ryan and Atlas, and the only ones left are insane splicers. By the sequel the city is slowly crumbling as the sea starts over taking it.
Radiator Springs from Cars. The musical number "Our Town" depicts its decline from a thriving community.
Green River from An American Tail: Fievel Goes West is essentially this by the time the Mousekewitz family arrives, a withering old west former Boom Town. Upon seeing it Mama remarks that they'd been "schnookered".
Dirt in Rango. A case of the town being killed on purpose, as the mayor deprives the citizens of water so that he can use it to buy off their land and create a new community while the old one is left to die.
Big chunks of rural America are filled with places like this. In the 1870s, over 70 percent of the population worked in agriculture. Today, it's around 3 percent or less. This is mostly due to changes in technology of a hundred different kinds: scientific advances have made farmland much more efficient, transportation technology and infrastructure have made it possible to keep food fresh longer and get it farther in that time, machines do the work of multiple people... so all the people who used to work in rural areas now live in suburban or urban areas, so rural areas are now populated much more sparsely than they once were.
A lot of small farming towns in the Great Plains feature mostly-boarded-up downtowns and an average population age in the 50's or older. Parts of the (much drier) High Plains fared even worse and completed the transition to full-on Ghost Town.
Lots and lots of former factory towns in the Midwest, including most cities around the Great Lakes (the "Rust Belt"). Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh are but a few cities whose populations today are half of what they were in the mid-20th century (if that). Even those that have bounced back economically, like Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, still struggle to shed their former image. It's easier to list the exceptions (cities that have never suffered) rather than those that fit:
Chicago has held up due to sheer size (third largest city in the USA) and a relatively diversified economy.
Toronto from being the centre of Canadian finance and media (with a well-timed boost in The Seventies from Quebec's strict language laws which led to an influx of anglophones and businesses from Montreal).
Columbus, Ohio, since its economy is heavily tied to The Ohio State University (the largest single college campus in the US) and the state government rather than any specific industry that would be at the mercy of economic trends.
The Detroit area is an incredible example of suburbs that are completely independent of the city they surround.
St. Louis, Missouri, used to be this before the city created a massive lower-city cleaning program where they cleaned up and cleared out the lower city. And then local institution Anheuser-Busch was bought out by a Belgian multinational which then proceeded to close the St. Louis bottling plants and fire all the workers.
Upstate New York, in addition to the usual Rust Belt problems, also had to deal with the loss of the Erie Canal as a viable shipping route after the St. Lawrence Seaway made it obsolete.
Rochester was dealt a particularly massive blow around the Turn of the Millennium because its economy was heavily dependent on Kodak, which was almost lethally slow to adjust to the digital-photography revolution. Thankfully, it bounced back due to its thriving arts scene. Perhaps just in time, as Kodak filed for bankruptcy shortly after the renaissance.
New England sports several of these — all former textile mill towns whose mills either moved or went bust in the mid-to-late 1900's.
The Carolinas have their share of dying former textile towns as well.
The Niagara Region in Ontario has been in slow decline since the 1970s. There used to be much manufacturing along the Niagara River and Welland Canal, but cheaper products from elsewhere have caused all but a couple of the factories to go bust. The tourist industry took a major hit in 2001 after 9/11, followed by the SARS outbreak, both of which discouraged the usual American tourists from crossing the border. The area now mostly runs on the casinos, wineries, and agriculture.
The biggest problem with Niagara is its lack of any kind of high-tech jobs. Any young person with an advanced degree will likely leave the area as soon as they can for the Greater Toronto area, which simply won't stop growing.
Towns that base their existence on exploiting natural resources often become these when the resource runs out or becomes obsolete. Examples would be the ghost towns in the Western United States, mining towns in Appalachia, and more mining towns in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
And there are some towns which are forcefully evacuated because their national resource makes them TOXIC. Libby, Montana is fighting a valiant fight against falling victim to this, in spite of the massive zonolite/asbestos presence that was once in the town. The Superfund project spent about two decades working to clean up the town and now certain pockets of it are livable, though generations of its residents will still succumb to mesothelioma.
Picher, Oklahoma was once the leading lead producer in the United States. A combination of toxic mine tailings and groundwater from over a century of production (leading to lead poisoning in 34% of the city's children in 1996), undermining of 86% of the city's buildings, and an F4 tornado in 2008, forced the final evacuation of the remainder of the city's population (about 20 residents in 2010, from a peak of nearly 10,000 in 1920).
Odessa, Texas' economy is directly tied to the dwindling reserves of oil in the area. Not good. Ditto for its Friday Night Lights stand-in, Dillon.
Many of the suburbs in the American "Sun Belt" (the southern third of the country, running from Southern California to the Carolinas and Florida) went from Boom Towns to Dying Towns virtually overnight as a result of the 2008 economic collapse. For decades, Americans had been choosing to buy houses somewhere that would be nice, warm, cheap, and sunny to live. Unfortunately, this led to a housing bubble in places that didn't actually have anything else supporting their economic base. Cities like Phoenix, Arizona and Fort Myers, Florida, which were largely nothing but suburbs, have been hit especially hard. Las Vegas survived due to its massive casino-based tourist industry, but it is now surrounded by hundreds of thousands of acres of pre-built tract houses in the middle of the desert that will probably never sell.
In California, entire counties have been brought low—Riverside and San Bernardino counties, for example, were marketed as bedroom communities. They were once touted as the affordable alternative to expensive housing in Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego. The combination of rising gasoline prices (California's strict emissions standards meant the state already had the highest gas prices in the country even before prices spiked), falling housing prices, and the lack of high-paying local employment created a perfect storm for the region, which now suffers from some of the highest crime and unemployment rates in the nation.
In Seattle, during the Boeing Bust of the 1970's, there were billboards that read "Will the last person leaving Seattle please turn out the lights?". They turned themselvesaround pretty quickly (Starbucks, Seattle's pride and joy, made coffee a luxury simply by tripling the price).
Harvey, Illinois. Home of the Dixie Square Mall (aka the Blues Brothers mall), abandoned since 1978. The last portion of Dixie Square Mall was torn down in May 2012. Whether the redevelopment that the city is hoping for actually happens remains to be seen.
San Antonio, Texas was a dying town for most of the first half of the 20th century. Then it was announced the 1968 World's Fair was going to be held there, leading to a surge in development. The Riverwalk came into being, new downtown hotels were built, a convention center sprung up, downtown was transformed from a sleepy hub of shantytowns to a lively center of activity, etc.
Some theorized that Memphis, Tennessee nearly became one around the 60's, with river traffic being replaced by rail, and not as much rail traffic being routed through Memphis as hoped. Then in 1971, a man named Fred Smith decided to base a little shipping company he was starting up out of Memphis. A little shipping company named Federal Express...
Shefferville, whose economy was based on asbestos mining. When its ore mining stopped in 1982, the population dropped from over 5000 to a just few hundred today. The city temporarily lost its legal incorporation status between 1986 and 1990.
A pretty unique example in Centralia, Pennsylvania. In 1962, a coal seam fire started under the town, producing both heat and toxic fumes. By 1984, the government determined that the town was uninhabitable, and it would be so expensive to put out the fire that it was cheaper to buy all the homes and relocate the entire population. Around 50 residents refused to move, despite the lack of anything to sustain a town. As of 2010, there were still 10 people living there.
Many smaller towns on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia were originally founded as Boomtowns for rubber plantations and tin mines during the late 19th and early 20th century; this dependence on single sources of income became their undoing when the price of rubber and, ultimately, tin finally crashed for good, decimating their bread and butter and leading many of its younger talents flocking for greener pastures in larger towns or cities or abroad. The vast majority who chose to stay and contribute to whatever was left of the town's economy are now 50-somethings or older, which is very telling of the future of these towns.
State capitals do not fare better either. The Kuala Lumpur-centric nature of the country's economy after independence naturally sent new job seekers gravitating to the national capital and its surrounding satellite towns, or alternately the state capitals of Penang and Johor or Singapore. The scarcity of free land for new development within old town centres would also prompt developers to construct new suburban towns on the outskirts, taking with it long-time townies who simply favour more peace and quiet. It's thus unsurprising to find capitals for lesser known states suffering from acute urban decay and desolation, even during festive seasons, when people are supposed to be returning to their hometowns.
This is an enormous problem in Russia, where there are dozens, if not hundreds, of so-called "single-factory towns". Many of them were built during the mass industrialization in the 1930s, and had almost the entire adult population working on some sort of heavy machinery factory or power plant. When the USSR bit the dust, many of the factories were shut down or forcibly bankrupted, leaving entire cities unemployed and rapidly depopulating.
A typical example is Yurievets, Ivanovo Oblast. Once home to several factories, currently all are in ruins or disassembled. The population is half of what once was and below the official minimum to qualify as a town, and survives on substinence farming and working shifts in neighboring cities. You can often find abandoned houses if you wander in the streets.
Former East Germany is infamous for this. Since German reunification, there has been a constant exodus of people from rural areas, small towns and fairly large cities to move towards the area that was former West Germany. High rates of unemployment and crime, low salaries, and rising amounts of neo-Nazi activity are often the common reasons why people emigrate. It also doesn't help that most of the national economic activity, and large demand for skilled workers, is concentrated along the western parts of the country. While the trend has reversed recently on the larger and more prosperous areas on the East (Leipzig, Dresden, etc.), the future remains unclear whether the states there would be able to recover demographically.
This was and to a great extent still is a problem in Britain, which ran its industrial base ragged during the Second World War and was forced to nationalise many heavy industries to prevent their total collapse. Then The Eighties happened and things got worse. As mentioned above, if you ever visit one of these towns, do NOT mentionMargaret Thatcher.
MySpace: Once the number 1 social network during the mid-00s, now has very few people still on it anymore. Just to show how much it's fallen: when Newscorp bought the site in 2005, they payed 580 million to get it. When the company sold it in 2011, it was for 35 million.
Many capitals when they cease to be one. Especially when they were built from scratch for no other purpose but to serve as a national capital, often (and rapidly) going all the way to Ghost Town - e.g. Karakorum, the capital of the Mongol Empire.
Averted in Russia, too. Its Tsarist era capital, St.Petersburg, purposely built on a dismal swamp, became a major cultural center, successfully recovered from a grievous Nazi siege and remains Russia's City #2 to this day.
There are lots of mining towns in the middle of the Australian bush that previously had populations of thousands or even tens of thousands when the mine was especially large. Now many are completely empty or have just a few hundred people and a filling station.
Many towns around the Aral Sea, like Mo‘ynoq, had populations of thousands employed in the fishing industry. Now, due to the Aral Sea shrinking, many of these towns are located miles from the nearest shore; fishing boats◊ and ships◊ lie scattered on the dry land that was once covered by water. Ongoing desertification and unemployment led to depopulation and decline of living conditions of these who decided to remain.
Much of Central Asia suffered this fate centuries ago after the trade routes known as the Silk Road were bypassed by the circum-African seaborne links between Europe and South/East Asia. The overall effect was akin to the fate of towns bypassed by upgraded highways writ large.