Ars Subterranea reminds me of another NYC secret-sharing project, Key to the City. Created by Paul Ramirez Jonas and curated by Nato Thompson, the project handed out keys to 25,000 lucky folks this summer. Each key unlocked 24 sites throughout the five boroughs, from the mundane to the mystical. You just had to look to find out which was which.

I stood in line for a key for my brother when I was visiting the city. It was a hot June day, and the line curled around a block in Times Square. It snaked up to a table where small guidebooks to the project were handed out, thence to a temporary park where people presented each other keys for made-up but perfectly good reasons:

This new Key to the City belongs to us, and is awarded among ourselves. We will give each other the key to our city for private reasons that exist outside of history. Instead of being acknowledged for landing a plane in a river, we are awarded the key for perfect attendance in school. Instead of receiving an honor for winning the World Series, we receive the key because of the kindness we showed at the hospital. And with this new key, we gain an opportunity to step back and reflect on common space in the city. For not only does the key open up specific sites, but it can also make us aware that the city is a series of spaces that are locked or unlocked. (Key to the City)

I think one of our most important tasks, as preservationists, is to unlock spaces for people. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean sponsoring mini-golf in an old factory or opening a locked gate; and it shouldn’t be limited to grandiose landmark buildings – everyday inhabited spaces like libraries and churches and alleys are necessary to add meaning to the broader landscape. Our projects can be as simple as mounting a sign, installing a sidewalk plaque, giving a tour, or putting up a billboard – though we can and should try to do better. These are pretty good ideas to start.

[top image: George Washington Bridge, Manhattan, by Paul Hiebert of Flavorpill; bottom: key to the city]

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