Bombay Beach was once a vibrant resort town on the Salton Sea until agricultural pollution, drought, and toxic air led to its demise. Today, an art movement and emerging community hope to bring it back. In this Noema essay, writer Johanna Hoffman and photographer Tao Ruspoli show how a town in ruins is experiencing a creative rebirth.

The town’s compassionate side serves as a different kind of preview, suggesting that ruins can play a powerful role in creating the more supportive futures we need. Human geographer Leila Dawney describes ruins as potent “containers for emergent forms of inhabitation in a damaged world.” Relating to ruins as more than nostalgic, fetishized objects interrupts our memory cycles, reminding us that place can be remade in imaginative ways even when conditions are harsh.

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.