Undercity: An Underground Expedition Through New York City

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In December of 2010, I spent some time with urban historian Steve Duncan making our way through the underground of New York City. Starting in the Bronx and ending at the Atlantic Ocean in Jamaica Bay, Queens, our idea was to make our way from one end of New York City to the other through its myriad tunnel networks. In the process, I knew we’d also be exploring New York City’s past – making our way through more than two centuries of urban development, including streams that were once aboveground waterways in the pre-urban topography (17th & 18th centuries), to the city’s first enclosed sewer along Canal Street (early 19th century), to the completely 20th-century labyrinth of the subway system. We wouldn’t sleep in hotels during the week-long trip, but would camp in the tunnels or wherever we could find a spot.

It was freezing cold, often wet and miserable, far more difficult than I expected in many ways, and we only made it through a portion of the tunnels we planned/hoped to. It was also an absolutely wonderful trip. Overall it was five days and four nights, monday-friday. We slept three nights underground, and the fourth night didn’t sleep at all.

The trip was originally Steve’s idea and I can’t thank him enough for the leadership, inspiration, and– above all– his complete willingness and excitement to do crazy, stupid, foolish, wonderful things like this. I also want to give me deepest thanks for the other people involved, both friends who helped to make the trip possible and journalists who were willing to accompany us on some or all of the trip to help make public the amazing world of the urban underground.

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