Wednesday, April 22, 2015

beneath city streets

'A New Life in the Sea' by Michael LombardiI found it rather fitting today to find myself fielding emails about celebrating Earth Day using an iPhone and while doing 'fieldwork' in the heart of the city of Boston. I was forced to find some appreciation of the gray and brown, rather than green, and came to realize that he world around us is very much a product of our lives and lifestyles.

Today's operation was supporting some very limited below grade excursions to investigate a partially flooded culvert. Despite city plans and blueprints, there are outstanding questions about where this thing runs, what it feeds, and what exactly feeds into it. The world around us in this case was a man-made (in relatively recent history) void beneath city streets that calls on the work of the urban subterranean explorer.

I've found these types of environments of increasing interest since my own first excursion below grade in Providence. The brick masonry lining the sewer conduits downtown is just magnificent and speaks to a degree of tradesmanship that is difficult to come by today. As I've probed a bit deeper into urban exploration, as it happens, some of the most complex environments requiring study and even human intervention are those that are man made. In many cases, these are not even on the modern map.

A recent Wired article cross-posted on CNN reviewed urban exploration pursuits in New York City, highlighting the work of Will Ellis. Ellis uncovered numerous abandoned spaces throughout the city and draws on them for creative artistic works. Once you're in, you're in - it won't take much digging to also learn about Michael Townsend and his multi-year squat in an undisclosed self-made apartment within the Providence Place Mall. Some may say crazy, though I say a brilliant testament to our general disregard to space, and a marquee demonstration for underground urban explorers everywhere. There are indeed new frontiers for the taking.

While I certainly have my eye on palm trees, flip flops, deep blue water, and some sunshine, it certainly pays to seek the yet discovered right in your own backyard - it may provide some new perspective on what our Earth has become, or is becoming.

Happy Earth Day 2015.

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