Bringing Back the City

Transit systems are the key to keeping a city running day-in and day-out. This is especially true for a city like New York where you can find people on the move all hours of the day. For the people of New York City and neighboring cities, their lives rely on the safety and reliability of the these public transits. In turn, these public transits stay operating and running all 365 days a year. Of course then, this raises the question, how do these these transit systems operate while maintaining the quality of transportation that has been running for decades with no rest. Those results are what my ecology has been focused on. Over the years, in order to keep these systems running on no sleep, wear and tear of the stations and systems has been the exchange of there efforts. With the increase of train delays and malfunctions, there is been a growing amount of frustration of commuters who have relied on the transit systems for years. Because the transit system has been literally rooted into the ground of New York City since it’s conception, it’s become a difficult project for administrators to quickly fix. A lot of these issues can be traced back on an institutional level. Many in the position to make changes seem to put these issues of the current transportation system on backlog, and turning their attention to more flashy projects that garner more positive public attention. They fail to see the damages that are being made not only for those who need to get to their jobs on time, but also fail to see the neglect placed on those who have dedicated their lives to working these transit systems. From train drivers, to conductors, to the officers and operators that work with the systems on a regular basis, rain or shine.

Brining Back the City, an exhibition in the New York Transit Museum gives the spotlight to these workers that have dedicated their time and efforts to maintain the safety and functionality of these transit systems. The exhibition showcases these workers in the moment of crisis, whether it be natural disasters, blackouts, and even the terrors of 9/11, and how they managed to keep everything under control while under crisis. The exhibit is broken into four sections, Response, Rescue, Readiness, and Resilience, each paired with an event that took place in dire times. Response is focused on the MTA during the September 11 attacks. Rescue is dedicated to the 2003 Northeast Black out in Ohio. Readiness and Resilience are both exhibits of the results of natural disasters, one being Hurricane Sandy.

Each of these sections in the exhibition utilize archived photos from when those events occurred to bring the audience back to that moment. Images are raw and at most devastating. In the case of 9/11 they showcased pictures of the crushed Cortland Street Station, and the beverly damaged NYC bus near Ground zero, showing the dangers that transit workers dealt with both below and above ground. Because the project takes on the “behind the scenes” narrative, the photographs selected juxtapose one another nicely showing the contrast between the confused masses and frightened commuters, to the brave few who dig through the debris, and the fearless in hard hats and neon orange vests.

The most gripping pieces of this exhibit were the individual interviews that were conducted with MTA workers who had been on the scene at the time of these disasters. Each interview has the worker giving a detailed account of what they witnessed during their time on the job. One train operator, Hector Ramirez who was at Cortland Street Station during 9/11 remembered the station smoking up, and the fear in the eyes of people, even with their faces covered to prevent smoke inhalation. Despite the panic and fear that the riders had experienced, operators like Ramirez had to make quick decisions and communicate efficiently with their commanders in order to help the people at the station to safety. To hear workers like Ramirez who were already at the scene from the start of the terrors really moves you and instills a number of emotions in you. It makes you stand still and listen carefully to what they’re saying, and almost take your time to swallow all the information. Each of these interviews also flip back and forth between the person being interviewed as well as more pictures of the scene to paint a better picture of what was happening.

Within each section, scenes from each event were recreated. “Artifacts” were on display as well. Recreations are a great way to engage the audience as they are visually stimulating and make the audience feel as if they were experience something. Although I have never visited the exhibit first hand, but through the tour video provided on their website, I found that the maybe the presentation of these recreations did not match the emotional and impactful pull that the photographs and interviews had. The scenes recreated as well as the music that was playing the background made the exhibition seem like a children’s museum exhibit. The music was upbeat and seemed unfitting for the topics covered within the exhibition. Audio and sound play a significant role in the design of a project that is trying to be informative. The photos and videos do the job of giving a very first hand and raw portrayal of what happened, but the music, a happy and cheery bit did not fit the narrative. I will note that exhibit was set up made it seemed like you were in an underground station. The ceilings are low, and the lights are dimmed, the walkway through the sections of the exhibit are also rather tight knit together, not giving a wide space. Intentional or unintentional, this infrastructural aspect of the exhibit can shape the attitudes and affects visitors receive and engage with in the exhibit.

Overall the exhibition shed light on a group of people that aren’t often recognized in times of crisis. Many of times we turn to our trained officers and fireman, we don’t think of the operators and conductors or even construction workers to be the faces behind a system that is relied on by millions of people. This exhibit captured the worse of the worse in a job that never sleeps. It reveals the responsibility and weight placed on these transit workers to keep the buses, the trains, the infrastructures running and operating smoothly day to day. Efforts that are unnoticed by those who rush on their rides and whisked away to their jobs.


~ by dmtprosannec on March 18, 2018.