Exploring the World Underneath New York City

A photographer documents the sewers beneath the metropolis.

“It’s dead quiet,” says Duncan, an urban historian and photographer. “You feel like you’re the last man on earth—and that’s incredibly rare in New York.” Steve Duncan is in a city of 8 million people, but the chances that he runs into anyone else are slim to none. He is 20 feet below a manhole cover photographing a realm that most would never dare enter. The photos he captures document the fragile relationship between the natural world and our built environment. “The same rivers and streams that were the reason that New York was founded here, they still exist, they are just hidden away,” says Duncan.

In the short documentary, A Beautiful Waste, director Jon Kasbe follows Duncan on a tour of a section of the New York City sewer system. While underground they discover hidden springs, surreal landscapes, and of course some putrid water. Duncan says that his goal is to improve cities by increasing our awareness of how they function. “Understanding how cities work is important,” says Duncan, “otherwise we don’t get to shape how they develop.”

To see more work from Jon Kasbe visit jonkasbe.com.

Paul Rosenfeld writes and produces for Atlantic Video. His work has also appeared on The Daily Beast and CNN.com.

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