Guerrilla History & Urban Exploration

New York Daily News: Urban Explorer Leads Drainees (online)

New York Daily News, August 3, 2005 Online Edition
"Urban Explorer Leads Drainees"
Page 27 in Print Edition.
Text by Derek Rose, photos by John Tracy.

New York Daily News: Urban Explorer Leads Drainees

New York Daily News, August 2, 2005
"Urban Explorer Leads Drainees"
Page 27 in Print Edition.
Text by Derek Rose, photos by John Tracy.

Text from: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2005/08/02/2005-08-02_urban_explorer_leads_drainees.html
Tuesday, August 2nd 2005
AS WE DESCEND into the cavernous storm sewer tunnel, the air feels cool and smells remarkably odor-free. There's the soft sound of running water, while the concrete walls are damp and rough. For the next few hours, a tour guide named Steve Duncan will be leading a small group of explorers through the underground network of drainage tunnels in Queens. "Knowing that there's a labyrinth of tunnels, who wouldn't want to go down here?" asks Duncan, 26, of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. "Once you realize how much there is out there, it's hard to resist." The editor of the Web site undercity.org, Duncan has seen much of the city that's off-limits and underground, beneath a manhole or behind a closed grate. Today it's a storm sewer in Queens. Tomorrow it might be an abandoned subway station, a derelict mental hospital or the Old Croton Aqueduct, a 40-mile water tunnel unused since 1890. They avoid the sealed "sanitary" sewage system. "It's sort of uncharted territory in a place millions of people live," said Lefty Leibowitz, 34, of Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. "And it's kind of fun to be places you're not supposed to be." The followers of the odd hobby called UE - urban explorations - or sometimes urban spelunking, are young adventurers intent on documenting the hidden infrastructure of cities. But authorities say UE can be hazardous and illegal - especially given security concerns in the post-9/11 world. "They are not allowed in our sites," said city Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Ian Michaels. "As you can probably imagine, we do not approve of unauthorized visitors. These are dangerous places. I only hope whatever they're doing, they're being very, very careful." Duncan tries to be cautious, carrying an air monitor to warn of possible contaminants, but concedes he was once caught by a changing tide while exploring a storm tunnel system near Jamaica Bay. "It was actually the closest to dying I've ever been," said Duncan, who escaped the rising tide by making an unscheduled exit up a manhole. Nothing nearly so dramatic occurs during today's adventure, with the explorers mostly encountering just ankle-deep rainwater and the odd bit of trash. "It's a lot less disgusting than I thought it'd be," said Amanda Wagner, 22, a paralegal and Columbia University student on her first storm-sewer trek. "It's clean here, cleaner than it is up there."

Discovery Channel: Urban Explorers TV Show

Discovery Channel's "Urban Explorers" TV Show
Hoggard Productions

In 2004-2005, I was an urban historian and on-camera host for a Discovery Channel show titled Urban Explorers. Originally intended to be a full 13-episode season, the show went through several mutations as Discovery changed its lineup and re-organized its focus.

We ended up doing just five episodes of the show (Milwaukee, Chicago, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Denver) over the course of about six months. We had a really great time filming, but unfortunately even after the five shows were complete Discovery still wasn't sure if it fit into their new lineup and their new style. (They were having their biggest success with shows about cars and motorcycles, and our history-oriented show was quite different.) Because of this, the show was aired in relatively poor time slots, and although it's been aired around the world multiple times since then, it's never been advertised by the network and they have no intention of pursuing it. Oh well... It was still a lot of fun to do. And every so often I get a note from someone who's just seen the show for the first time and tells me they really like it. (To everyone who has liked the show and taken the time to look it up on the net and drop me a line-- thank you!)

Existing episodes:

Some airdates:
June 27-July 1, 2005 (USA)
April 2006 (USA)
August 2006 (Canada)
March 2007 (Canada)

Unfortunately, I don't know where it's possible to get a copy of the show, and I don't know any future airdates. It might be possible to download a torrent of the show from this link, or if this link doesn't work maybe it can be found somewhere else: http://torrentz.ws/search/Urban-Explorers:rel_2

Sugarzine: Photo Gallery

Solo Exhibition at Sugarzine Gallery @ CafĂ© Bar, Astoria, Queens, February 20 to March 10, 2005. 

New York Underground (Book)

My friend Julia Solis published an excellent book aptly titled New York Underground: The Anatomy of a City in 2005. (For German readers, she had previously published a german-language version of the book under the title New York Underground: Anatomie einer Stadt (CH. Links Verlag; Berlin 2002).)

Some of my photos are featured in the book, including photos of sewer construction and the "cyclotron" at Columbia University.

Solis, Julia. New York Underground: The Anatomy of a City. Routledge; New York and Great Britain, 2005
Available at Amazon.com