Imagine you were granted a commission by the MTA, the entity responsible for the New York City subway. If money were no object and you could refashion a subway car, which subway line would you choose and what would you do?
Every month Young New Yorkers graduates, fellows, and staff take part in an imaginative learning and community building workshop called YNY Ultra.
For our May Ultra the creative forces of our graduates focused on the New York City subway. As New Yorkers, we each have our own relationship with this transportation system and we can all agree that it’s not simply a mechanism to get from point A to point B. In many ways, it is a reflection of what works, what doesn’t work, and what needs improving in New York City. From its architecture, geography, environment, service delays and cuts, access and accessibility, to policing and policies reinstating charges for fare jumping—all of these directly impact young New Yorkers and in many instances, negatively and disproportionately impact black and brown people.
Our community has acutely felt the rise in gun violence and the numerous and violent attacks on AAPI and we share New Yorkers and the country’s sorrow for what is happening right now. We are weary, sad, angry, and heavy-hearted. Our YNY graduate community has been an anchor in these turbulent times. And so, we thought you would appreciate a glimpse into our healing and creative process.
For the May Ultra, participants were asked to imagine their ideal subway experience and what they would create if they were granted a commission to refashion a subway car. Some themes that immediately rose to the top: What is seen and unseen (reflective surfaces, eye-catching paints, glow-in-the-dark cars). Noise levels (music, rubber wheels, quiet cars). Elemental materiality (plants, symbols, meaning). Comfort (nostalgia, lounge seating, artificial intelligence, impossible tech).
I think you’ll agree, our initial brainstorm yielded amazing ideas. We’ve shared just a few of them here:
A car on the A train or any of the trains on the blue line because they span the farthest distance across the city. I want to take a whole car and make it completely super-hyper-reflective, make it look like a mirror. That way, standing on the platform or inside the car, everyone can see themselves and it reflects the environment.
I want to convert the first and middle car of the 4 train into a frightening and scary experience, like an over the top haunted experience, so that it jarrs you in your everyday, wakes you up to yourself.
I would design a subway car full with native species of plants and animals of New York. To breathe life into the subway and acknowledge the land that we are on.
I want to satisfy our need to commute and relax. I would convert the train into a space with lounge seats, music, and entertainment.
I would put a quiet car for peace and tranquility and make every other car into a quiet car - that means soundproofing, take out all the busted speakers and replace them with new speakers that work, and add padded seats. I would commission young artists to fill up the space in the train with playful, safe, and grounded artistics works. I would convert the L train first, because I love that train.
Please take these ideas with you as you ride the subway in the coming weeks. We expect they will uplift and bring hope to your day. And who knows, we may transform some of these ideas into reality with a MTA/YNY collaboration in the future. For those who have participated in our public exhibitions in the past, you know it begins with these seeds.
Thank you for partnering with our young leaders as they continue to imagine and cultivate a safer and brighter New York City.