To emerge from the Washington Heights 191st Road subway station, the deepest within the metropolis, riders of New York Metropolis’s 1 Prepare have two choices: take the elevator or stroll by means of a three-block-long tunnel. The prolonged underground stretch, an important thoroughfare by means of the hilly neighborhood, has lengthy served as a canvas for graffiti artists. However on the morning of Friday, January 20, the Division of Transportation (DOT) cleaned and sanitized the passageway and painted its partitions a colorless beige, utterly protecting up any hint of road artwork.
Now, some residents are accusing the town of failing to seek the advice of the group earlier than whitewashing the tunnel.
Niria E. Leyva-Gutiérrez, govt director of the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance (NoMAA), and District 20 Council Member Carmen De La Rosa stated in a joint assertion that they had been knowledgeable of the paint job solely after it had occurred and decried the “continuous lack of transparency” from metropolis businesses. Additionally they stated that regardless of their calls to maintain the tunnel secure and clear — it has turn out to be dimly lit, soiled, and plagued by trash and needles — they’d by no means advocated for the erasure of the artwork that was “emblematic of the tunnel.”
The passageway performs a bigger position within the neighborhood than simply offering an exit from the subway. “For those who’re older or you could have a child or a stroller, it’s a significant artery,” stated Washington Heights resident Led Black, who runs the information outlet Uptown Collective. The tunnel connects Broadway to a different Washington Heights thoroughfare, St. Nicholas Avenue, which he stated runs a staggering 18 tales increased.
Regardless of the tunnel’s necessity, it’s lengthy been topic to metropolis neglect. Rising up within the Nineteen Eighties and Nineties, Black stated the tunnel was harmful, a degree reiterated by one other neighborhood native who most popular to remain nameless. “The tunnel wasn’t a spot to be in and I by no means walked in it,” she informed Hyperallergic, including that though she generally scribbled on its partitions together with her pals like many different center and excessive schoolers, her first recollections of truly utilizing it had been round 2015, when the town launched a public mural initiative.
“Now we stroll by means of it virtually each day,” she stated.
In 2014, DOT changed the tunnel’s lights, painted over the present graffiti, and created a plan with NoMAA to fee artists to color the passageway with $15,000 stipends, culminating in an expansive mural challenge. The Washington Heights resident stated that though individuals had been involved concerning the murals changing into a road artwork vacationer vacation spot and contributing to rising gentrification, it was a welcome addition to a forgotten spot.
Town’s plan gave the impression to be successful, however Black lamented the dearth of repairs. “For those who don’t clear that first tag when it goes up, it’s gonna go downhill from there,” he stated.
Though the tunnel has misplaced its affiliation with violent crime, it has nonetheless fallen into disrepair. The longtime resident stated the passageway isn’t as brightly lit because it was once, and when it’s windy or wet, water leaks in from the partitions. She additionally talked about the needles that acquire on the perimeters of the tunnel, which Black captured for a January 2022 Uptown Collective put up. The picture prompted De La Rosa to strain the town to wash the passageway final yr.
Quickly after, the tunnel was soiled once more, an issue Black blamed on a bureaucratic “mish-mosh of company” oversight that leads to cleansing that’s “extra reactionary than a course of.” (Not like different subway passageways, this tunnel is underneath the supervision of the DOT relatively than the MTA.)
A spokesperson for the company directed Hyperallergic to statements made yesterday, January 23, by NYC DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez. Rodriguez stated the company is “planning to start searching for potential artists” to revamp the 191st Road tunnel. “It is a precedence for me as a result of I perceive the symbolic which means behind this cultural mural,” he added.
Of their joint assertion, NoMAA’s Leyva-Gutiérrez and Council Member De La Rosa insisted that the town carry out each day cleansing and upkeep and known as on them to supply companies for unhoused individuals who collect within the tunnel. Additionally they known as on DOT to right away interact with the group to re-install the 2015 public artwork challenge.
“As youngsters, we ourselves added our personal graffiti tags in it and wrote messages,” the longtime Washington Heights resident stated, including that even now that she’s older, she nonetheless sees quite a lot of life within the tunnel.
“Children racing by means of it on foot or on bikes and skateboards. You’ll see individuals filming DIY music movies in there. In some methods, it’s come to represent quite a lot of the tradition and really feel for the neighborhood,” she continued. “Everyone seems to be doing their very own factor and claiming their area, even on this little underground area.”