The small Belgian village of Doel gives every appearance of being a ghost town: structures are reduced to rubble, still-standing shops are boarded up, and massive, surreal graffiti covers every abandoned building. But rather than being a sign of neglect, this "vandalism” has turned the otherwise derelict streets into a colorful brick canvas and is, in fact, seen as the hope for resurrecting this ancient town.
Across Doel, traditional facades are painted with bright, modern art. There’s a man with a birdcage for a head shooting arrows into a blackbird; Obama with the Joker’s face paint decorates a corner house; a giant, sniffing rat stretches across two facades. The scenes that cover the walls of the dystopian town are actually a last-ditch campaign launched by the 25 surviving inhabitants to keep the village alive—and for years it has succeeded.
Doel’s population declined from 1,700 residents in the 1970s, to 350 around five years ago, to the current two-dozen. During the late ’90s, in the midst of this steady decline, the government deemed the vibrant town, sandwiched between a nuclear power plant and a port, ripe for the bulldozer and inclusion in a massive dock and nature reserve project. The transformation would form one of the continent’s largest ports.