A 5-Minute Journey Down A Manhole In New York

“It’s dead quiet, and you feel like you’re the last man on earth. That’s incredibly rare in New York,” says urban explorer Steve Duncan. Filmmaker Jon Kasbe followed Duncan — who many of you might recognise from 2011’s Undercity — down a sewer for the short film, A Beautiful Waste, released in July.

As they make their way through the dark, they encounter toilet paper, yes, but also unexpectedly beautiful sights like a clear, natural spring bubbling into the sewer. As Duncan documented on his seemingly dormant website Watercourses, the island New York was built on was once a maze of small rivers and streams; the current sewer network simply follows those long-forgotten paths:

Almost all of the the streams, ponds, swamps, tidal inlets, flood plains, springs, etc that once dotted the fertile land seem, at first glance, to have disappeared underneath the tide of New York City’s urbanization. This is not completely true. In many cases, the city retains the imprint of these features; in the shape of a road, for example, like Water Street in lower Manhattan, that used to follow the edge of a stream or river; or sometimes just in the name of a neighbourhood or street. Spring Street is named after a spring; Canal Street was briefly a functional canal under the Dutch; and throughout Brooklyn and Queens north along the Hudson, streets with names like “Mill Street,” “Lake Ave,” “Mill Pond Road,” etc indicate the old sites of water mills located along streams or ponds.

All in all, Kasbe’s film is a surprisingly poetic five minutes down the manhole. [Aeon]