Why Nobody Lives in These Empty Cities in Texas

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Written By Blue & Gold NLR Team





Texas is a vast state with a population of over 29 million people, but it also has many empty spaces and abandoned towns. Some of these places are called ghost towns, because they were once thriving communities that were deserted for various reasons. Others are more recent examples of urban decay, where office buildings and apartments stand vacant and unused. What are the causes and consequences of these empty cities in Texas?

The Rise and Fall of Ghost Towns

Ghost towns are usually the result of economic boom and bust cycles, especially in industries such as mining, oil, railroad, and agriculture. When these industries flourished, they attracted workers and settlers who built towns and businesses around them. But when the resources ran out, the markets collapsed, or the transportation routes changed, the towns lost their economic viability and their inhabitants moved away.

Some examples of ghost towns in Texas are:

  • Terlingua: A former mining town in the Big Bend region, famous for its mercury production and chili cook-offs. It was abandoned in the 1940s when the demand for mercury dropped after World War II. Today, it is a tourist attraction and a hub for artists and adventurers.
  • Thurber: A coal mining town in Erath County, once the largest town between Fort Worth and El Paso. It was deserted in the 1930s when the Texas and Pacific Railway switched from coal to oil and the mines closed. Today, it is a historic site with a museum and a smokestack.
  • Lobo: A railroad town in Culberson County, near the border with New Mexico. It was abandoned in the 1960s when the water supply dried up and the railroad service was discontinued. Today, it is a ghost town with a few buildings and a cemetery.

The Challenge of Empty Office Space

Empty office space is a more recent phenomenon, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to remote work. Many businesses and employees have realized the benefits of working from home, such as lower costs, higher productivity, and more flexibility. As a result, the demand for office space has declined, leaving many buildings empty and underutilized.

Some examples of cities with high office vacancy rates are:

  • Houston: The largest city in Texas and a major hub for the energy industry. It has an office vacancy rate of 25%, the highest among major U.S. cities. The pandemic has worsened the situation that was already affected by the oil price crash and the oversupply of office space.
  • Dallas-Fort Worth: The second-largest metro area in Texas and a diversified economy with sectors such as technology, finance, and aviation. It has an office vacancy rate of 23%, the second-highest among major U.S. cities. The pandemic has slowed down the growth and development of the area, which was previously one of the fastest-growing in the country.
  • Austin: The capital of Texas and a hotspot for innovation and entrepreneurship. It has an office vacancy rate of 21%, the third-highest among major U.S. cities. The pandemic has reduced the need for office space for many startups and tech companies, which have embraced remote work and hybrid models.

The Implications of Emptiness

Emptiness in cities can have negative impacts on the social, environmental, and economic aspects of urban life. Some of the potential problems are:

  • Loss of revenue and services: Empty buildings and towns generate less tax revenue and require more maintenance and security. This can affect the quality and availability of public services and infrastructure, such as roads, schools, and parks.
  • Decline of downtown areas: Empty office space can reduce the foot traffic and spending in downtown areas, which depend on office workers to support restaurants, retail, and entertainment businesses. This can lead to more closures, vacancies, and blight, creating a vicious cycle of urban decay.
  • Waste of resources and land: Empty buildings and towns consume energy, water, and materials that could be used for other purposes. They also occupy land that could be used for housing, agriculture, or conservation. This can contribute to environmental degradation and sprawl.

The Opportunities of Emptiness

Emptiness in cities can also create opportunities for innovation, adaptation, and revitalization. Some of the possible solutions are:

  • Repurposing and redevelopment: Empty buildings and towns can be repurposed and redeveloped for new uses, such as housing, education, health care, or recreation. This can increase the diversity and affordability of urban spaces, as well as the efficiency and sustainability of urban design.
  • Preservation and tourism: Empty buildings and towns can be preserved and promoted as historical and cultural attractions, such as museums, art galleries, or festivals. This can increase the awareness and appreciation of the heritage and identity of urban places, as well as the income and employment of local communities.
  • Reimagining and experimentation: Empty buildings and towns can be reimagined and experimented with new ideas, such as co-working, co-living, or co-creating spaces. This can foster the creativity and collaboration of urban dwellers, as well as the innovation and entrepreneurship of urban economies.


Empty cities in Texas are the result of various historical and contemporary factors, such as industrial cycles, demographic changes, and technological trends. They pose challenges and opportunities for urban planning and development, requiring vision and action from public and private stakeholders. They also reflect the diversity and dynamism of urban life in Texas, offering insights and lessons for the future of cities.

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