Based on ethnographic research, this contribution analyses the living conditions in mining towns in Datong, a city located in northern Shanxi. Coal miners and their families used to live directly on the site of each mine in small self-built houses. Most houses were made out of stones; there was no direct access to water. Not only did the families breathe an air polluted by coal, they also burnt coal as a heating practice. The issue of dangerous housing (sinking houses) and dilapidated housing in mining sites lasted for decades, but was not a priority issue in the context of the boom and bust cycles of the coal industry. The nationalisation of the industry finally led to a massive operation of urban renewal by Tongmei Group, the state-owned company in charge of most of the local coal industry. In 2006, Tongmei implemented the construction of a new residential compound, “Penghuqu”, which now hosts a population of 300,000 residents. But the bust of coal prices in 2013 left the project uncompleted. The unfinished “great coal migration” is a way to reflect on resilient lifestyles in a dilapidated environment and on uncertain prospects as a once solid local economy entered an era of decline. Based on fieldwork in the mining settlements between 2016 and 2018, this research shows how the last families of coal miners experience social and spatial ruination after most of the population left. It allows to understand everyday living conditions near the coal mines from a micro-social angle.