Undercity: An Underground Expedition Through New York City

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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  • @DigsRetro

    Loved this! What a fascinating trip thru all of the forbidden parts of New York city!

  • Jim Burke

    Did the station at the beginning have a name?
    Very cool vid.

    • New Yorker

      That’s old city hall station. You can see it legitimately through the 6 train windows if you stay on past the last stop when it loops.

      • saoirse

        that is an excellent comment.

  • dmk

    this is definitely one of the coolest things i’ve seen in a long
    time! a thrilling vicarious experience! do more videos!

  • Jens

    thanks for a great video. very interesting stuff.
    Please, more and longer!

  • Rick K

    Fascinating. There are several books out about underground New York and other cities.

  • Cedgie

    I wanna see more – more cities – more history – more more more.

  • Gianni

    Loved it, never get to see what’s under our feet.

  • Gianni

    Loved it, never get to see what’s under our feet.

  • Dragonfist76

    My only problem iz that it waz waayyy too short. I need more. Can they do another film? And perhaps climb the Queenz borough bridge this time? And more tunnelz,pleaze.

  • Anonymous

    Cool….Incredibly clear video too!!  I wanna see more.

  • Chrisochun

    i loved this, had me more scared watching you go up the bridge but it was totally amazing.

  • Jphi1963

    great doc……thought I was going to puke though with the bridge…just wished it had been longer and more tunnels….thanks!

  • Ruby

    This dude’s got quite the balls. It’s interesting how New York pushes its reputation based on the superficial and the exterior, while clearly there is more to be said for what’s beneath the surface. Very nice film, and extremely well-done. I hope to see more like it and more stuff from him in particular. I looove this website :-).

  • JoinTheRealms

    absolutly brilliant !

  • Las Vegas Rich

    I was fine until we got to the bridge. Sitting at my monitor, my vestigial tail is exhausted.

  • Derek Christian

    What happened to making their way from 1 end of NYC to the other thru tunnels? It suddenly evolved into Steve being an asshole daredevil.