Exploration of the Secret New York

Throughout my 26 years of life in NYC, I’ve moved around quite a bit and I have connections to different parts of the city. My grandparents are still in the East Village apartment where I lived as a child, I can still remember playing in the schoolyard across from the apartment where I was raised in Bushwick and today I’m living in Queens. I’ve never lived anywhere other than NYC, and I’ve had a unique opportunity to experience many different New Yorks all within roughly 300 square miles.

Still, having so many friends who grew up outside of NYC has helped me come to the realization that there is a lot of NYC that I have yet to see or be exposed to. It remains to be one of the most interesting places anywhere, and it can take a lifetime of exploration to fulfill my natural curiosity. Probably most interesting, in a city of 8 million people, is venturing into those spaces where there are very few signs of life. These places give us a rare glimpse into an earlier time and offer the most unique insight into the vast and venerable urban infrastructure we have right underneath us.

The problem is, you need to break the law in order to see them.

Luckily, for those of us who do not want to take that risk, urban explorers Steve Duncan and Andrew Wonder have spent some time venturing below the streets of New York to take a closer look at the beautiful, interesting and sometimes scary hidden infrastructure that many people don’t even know exists. They’ve chronicled some of their expeditions in this (regrettably only about half-hour long) video:

The pair begin by climbing down into the old ‘secret’ City Hall subway station that is just plain cool, even if not totally secret, to us NYC Subway enthusiasts (for those interested in taking a look at the station from the safety of the 6-train making its turnaround after the Brooklyn Bridge stop, see this Jalopnik posting). Rarely can one see the intricacies of the old City Hall station – the decorative tilework, lighting and original dedication plaque – in such detail as Duncan and Wonder do here.

They move on to check out the first covered sewer in the city, under what is now Canal Street and is also the source of its name – simply a roofed over ‘canal.’ In another stop to make train lovers jealous, the two make their way to the Amtrak tunnels over by the Lincoln Tunnel and they show us some of the natural rock that holds up Manhattan. In one of the few signs of life in the underbelly of NYC (other than the homeless men and women they come across), they show us several examples of street art on the walls of these tunnels, giving us an interesting look at life in the New York City few of us have ventured into.

And finally, in the most daring move, Duncan and Wonder climb one of the towers of the Williamsburg Bridge, giving the viewer a breathtaking view of Manhattan Island. The birdseye view of the city, without the protection of a plane or helicopter, is a sight to behold, and one can only imagine what it looked like in person.

Needless to say, I have a great appreciation for the urban expedition that Steve Duncan and Andrew Wonder show us here, even with the multitude of risks involved. For those of us who have, or seek, a great appreciation for the city and its character, take a look at the clip to see a small glimpse into the ancient city that rests just below our feet, it’s very existence unbeknownst to so many of us. It may just make you think about NYC a little differently.


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