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Into the Tunnels
January 2, 2011 5:26 PM   Subscribe

The wilderness below New York City, where mysterious and wonderfully abandoned structures are explored by urban historians and adventurers.
Into the Tunnels with Steve Duncan.
posted by Taft (22 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite

 
Only $37.96!
posted by bwg at 5:44 PM on January 2, 2011


How does someone abandon something wonderfully?
posted by oddman at 6:44 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


The high-line was re-purposed into a tourist attraction, many of the underground places will be too, once they are seen as historically interesting and valuable, like the sewers of Paris or crypts of Rome.
posted by stbalbach at 7:43 PM on January 2, 2011


The act of abandonment isn't what is wonderful. It is the abandoned state of the places which fills the explorer with wonder.
posted by hippybear at 7:54 PM on January 2, 2011


stbalbach: I don't think that's quite fair; it was converted into a park, which is used by at least as many locals as tourists.

(Admittedly that's a separate distinction from the probably-correct contention that a formerly exotic abandoned place has been thoroughly domesticated, to the detriment of its forbidden appeal.)
posted by pts at 7:56 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


*Starting* at $37.96. I bet you could spend more if you wanted to.
posted by ZakDaddy at 7:59 PM on January 2, 2011


I've been underground*. It's beautiful and fascinating and enriches one's understanding of the city. Anyone able-bodied who is interested in the urban fabric and industrial space should take such a trip.

But I'm dismayed by a tale of self-promoters who garland themselves with giddy media ("oooh, Steve looks like Owen Wilson!"), trudge through a freaking sanitary sewer, and then take public transportation during rush hour and dine in restaurants and drink in bars while reeking and smearing fecal bacteria all around.

It's irresponsible and arrogant, and in putting the romanticized narrative into the mainstream press it encourages people who are not capable of making responsible choices to put themselves and others at risk. What's the point of this article, exactly?

*only in storm drains, though, and never during rain or, as in this article, a snow storm.
posted by Scram at 8:17 PM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


When I was an engineer, I was afforded several opportunities to see the underside of a different part of new york, more up by 135th st. I spent a few days working in the electrical vaults. For all the really cool stuff that you think you see here there are orders of magnitude unthinkable of really boring, dull, but necessary tunnel architecture.

The big thing that bugs me though is that these guys do not have on masks, (at least) or ventilators, because I can attest, these are ridiculously foul places and you definitely will shorten your life by hanging around down there breathing that crap in. Also, the EMF in the vaults was such that I got really nervous about the prospects of having a kid (in one vault the hum was so loud, that the ear protection I was wearing was basically useless. Also, my hair was standing straight up for a few minutes after leaving...).

All in all, very cool, but the big difference between what these guys do and what they should be doing is the difference between living to 50 or dying of old age.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:45 PM on January 2, 2011


trudge through a freaking sanitary sewer, and then take public transportation during rush hour and dine in restaurants and drink in bars while reeking and smearing fecal bacteria all around.


Hold on, I've got a movie pitch to write.
posted by The Whelk at 8:46 PM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


He seems more grounded than Jennifer Toth[prev], but I wonder what Joseph Brennan thinks of this guy.

When I lived out there I did a lot of PG urban exploration, just occasionally dipping my toe into a PG-13 location. Seems like he's R-rated all the way. I know some of the entrances to places he talks about, put it that way. If I'd had a way to link up with someone else I'd certainly have done more, but in the end I liked showing up at my job the next day as well.

By the way, I've been happily occupied with Kate Ascher's The Works: Anatomy of a City.
posted by dhartung at 9:26 PM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


When I was a freshman in college, a senior took me into "the tunnels", which were archaic steam service tunnels which used to supply the campus from a central boiler, and were also equipped to be used as fallout shelters in the 1950s. We explored every inch of them over 2 nights, and at the VERY furthest reach there was a wall of signatures of people who had been down there. Well, not signatures. More like graffiti or tags -- nicknames, cartoon characters, etc. I made my mark proudly.

We nearly got caught by the campus cops as we emerged from our tunnel, and had to scout out exits for about an hour before we had one which didn't have a patrol nearby. About a week later there was a notice in the campus paper about "suspected gangs" in the tunnels, and locks were installed on the covers by the end of that month.

But that was nothing compared to the time a bunch of us had purchased Laser Tag outfits at steep discount from KayBee Toys and were playing around the campus at 2 in the morning, and campus security was walking around with their guns drawn...

I think they generally overreacted to nearly everything the students did for fun during that time.
posted by hippybear at 9:46 PM on January 2, 2011


It has always seemed sort of weird to me how NYC's subway stations, tracks, and tunnels are so incredibly grimy compared with their counterparts in Paris, London, Berlin, DC, SF - just about any other underground urban railway I've ridden on. Street-level New York is no dirtier than any other city really - so what's with the subway there?
posted by squalor at 10:53 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Of related interest is The Mole People, a good book from the early 90s about the people who live in the tunnels under NYC
posted by Berkun at 11:05 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thrilling and fabulous. I could have really gotten into this stuff when I was young. I sort of did the kiddie version of some of this, when I was a kid. But I don't understand why it makes me hot.
posted by Goofyy at 11:19 PM on January 2, 2011


It has always seemed sort of weird to me how NYC's subway stations, tracks, and tunnels are so incredibly grimy compared with their counterparts in Paris, London, Berlin, DC, SF - just about any other underground urban railway I've ridden on. Street-level New York is no dirtier than any other city really - so what's with the subway there?

Whenever someone calls the subway the bowels of the city, they're not being figurative. Many NYC subway tunnels often double as sewage & drainage tunnels. Which really fucking sucks.
posted by PsychoKick at 5:01 AM on January 3, 2011


Many NYC subway tunnels often double as sewage & drainage tunnels. Which really fucking sucks.

Indeed. Wonder why subway service gets thrown into a tizzy whenever it rains, or why Penn Station turns into a waterfall?

The popular urban legend goes that the original pumps from the Panama Canal were disassembled, shipped to New York, and reinstalled to help keep the subway system drained.

It also doesn't help that the NYC subway was built very quickly, and on the cheap by three different railways.

Still, that doesn't quite excuse the state of disrepair that the city allowed the subway to fall into through the mid-20th century.
posted by schmod at 7:38 AM on January 3, 2011


The subway is also particularly dirty because unlike most any other city in the world, our subway runs 24/7, so there's less downtime for clean-ups.

It's also the largest subway in the US and the fourth largest in the world for ridership.

And, yes, there is definitely a drainage problem thanks to being below the water table. I don't know about the pump legend, but I do know that they have wells dug in the tunnels to help them drain, and there's really no other help.

And I really love that Penn Station waterfall photo!
posted by Xoder at 7:59 AM on January 3, 2011


this reminds me of the urban legends of the city underneath Tokyo
posted by Enigmark at 9:27 AM on January 3, 2011


I'm not an urban explorer, but I know Steve and he's really a nice guy. I think maybe he was hamming it up a little for the camera, but he's really genuinely interested in this stuff. I think some of the snark in this thread is a little unfair. If you have a real passion about something, why not share it? If people might buy them and enjoy them, and you might have more time to pursue your interest, why not have photos available for sale? I guess it's not my underground thing that I want to keep secret, but as far as I'm concerned, more power to him.
posted by snofoam at 11:50 AM on January 3, 2011


I really don't understand why people are being so snarky about this guy. It's rare that I actually stick with a web video for more than a few minutes, but I was glued to my screen for all 28 minutes. I thought the camera work was beautiful and really captured the beauty that Steve was trying to show. And, while he was a bit hammy, I also thought that he came across as genuinely fascinated, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable.

Really well done. It makes me want to go out and explore the city, but I think I'm too much of a chicken to do half the stuff that he was doing.
posted by Betelgeuse at 1:00 PM on January 3, 2011


This is fascinating stuff. Would love to hear some more stories from the people who came to be squatting in some of those abandoned places...and just WATCHING that bridge stuff gives me vertigo. Yow.
posted by jnnla at 4:25 PM on January 3, 2011


Would love to hear some more stories from the people who came to be squatting in some of those abandoned places

jnnla, you might like to look out for the film 'Dark Days', it does just that.
posted by infinite intimation at 11:36 AM on January 8, 2011


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