Underground Urban Wonders: 7 Stunning Sub-City Spaces

New York’s Netherworld

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The subject of many a myth and legend, New York’s underground is said to be home to everything from alligators to mutated cannibalistic humanoids. There’s no doubt that these places are dark, grimy and rat-infested, lurking below the streets in sharp contrast to the gleaming Manhattan that has evolved from its grittier 1970s-era past into an increasingly luxurious metropolis. And the truth is, homeless people do live down there. Referred to as the ‘Mole People,’ New York City’s underground residents make use of these abandoned spaces, living off restaurant leftovers and organizing their daily routines around the rumbling sounds of the trains. Even people who don’t live underground flock here to hold secret events and parties.

But after the success of other urban reclamation projects like The High Line, city officials and residents have turned their attention to these unused spaces. ‘Delancy Underground’ is one proposal, envisioning an underground park in an abandoned trolley terminal that uses advanced solar technology to transmit natural sunlight deep into the cavernous spaces. The Low Line project was brought before the Community Board and is being considered as a viable option for growing the city using spaces that already exist.

The Tunnel People of Las Vegas

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The drain tunnels under glitzy Las Vegas aren’t exactly the most welcoming place to live. They’re dark and wet, and at any time, a major weather event could flood them completely, washing away everything within. But that doesn’t stop people from setting up surprisingly comfortable homes – on pallets and plastic crates, to keep their possessions from getting soaked by the inch or two of water that’s constantly on the ground. Nobody knows just how many people live in underground Vegas, but journalist Matthew O’Brien, who has explored the tunnels extensively, says an entire community numbering perhaps a thousand exists, and he’s even seen evidence of children, like toys and teddy bears strewn around. The inhabitants set up their little homes with cast-off furniture, and one tunnel is even dedicated to a graffiti gallery.

SubTropolis, Kansas City, MO

Urban Undergrounds Subtropolis

Claimed to be the world’s largest underground storage facility, SubTropolis is a 55-million-square-foot manmade cave in the bluffs above the Missouri River in Kansas City. It reaches depths of 160 feet below the surface and is made up of a grid of 16-foot-high, 40-foot-wide tunnels with almost seven miles of illuminated, paved roads, and several miles of railroad track. Unlike other underground facilities used for storage, this wasn’t reclaimed – it was expressly built for this purpose and houses about 50 businesses and organizations including the United States Postal Service, a training and logistics center for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Hallmark Cards, Safeway Stores offices and Grantham University. The spaces are climate-controlled and require very little heating and cooling by virtue of the insulating rock.