How has the Subway shaped New York City?


Today, New York is considered to be the most diversely populated city in the world.  This situation has resulted from the way in which the transport system, namely The Subway system, has rapidly brought all these diverse groups together and in regular contact with one another.

People in New York reacted in many different ways to the subway.  Some loved the speed and the new technology and experienced riding the subway as quite liberating, allowing them to enjoy more freedom. Much like the type of people who go for an Intertops casino bonus!

But others really didn’t enjoy the experience, being packed together with other people in such a small space making them feel trapped and bringing on feelings of claustrophobia.   If you also add to the mix, ethnic, gender and class differences, then taking the subway could easily provoke feelings of anxiety and stress, at least for some people.

The beginning

The initial subway route was the creation of the business elite but 1913 saw the authorization of a second stage of the subway construction.  It was referred to as the dual contract system and was brought about by social reformers interested in experimenting with new ways in social planning.  The aim being to reduce urban poverty and to integrate new immigrants.  The dual system served the outermost areas of the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn and enabled the working classes of these areas to have access to new areas in the outskirts.

The subway was a big factor in making New York a real modern city.  New York is different from most other American cities in that it differs from the “doughnut” example of most other US cities.  The majority of these cities have low-income and shrinking populations in the center and high-income and growing populations in the suburbs.

Manhattan is a city that has quite a large affluent population and also has areas where the population is quite dense.  This adds to the fast pace of the city, its focus on consumption and fashion trends and also the fact that the city is awake 24 hours a day.

The majority of New York residents live in apartments and make their way into mid-town and lower Manhattan every morning for work and then return home at the end of the day.   The ability of the subway system to transport such large numbers of people so quickly and effectively makes it possible for these residential areas outside of mid-town and lower Manhattan to house such a concentration of people.

Introduction of the Automobile

The subway also plays a part in the social gap that exists between New York City and its suburbs.  Its suburbs extend further than any other and New York has the most densely populated areas of any city.

Planning is the culprit.   At the end of the subway’s final stage of construction in 1940, the city was focused on the automobile.  Practically all the improvements made at this time were to highways.   The New York subway really set the city apart.

Unlike other cities, for example Houston and Atlanta where they relied on interstate highways and were financed by the federal government, New York had to finance its own transport system.

However, by 1960 it became apparent that mass transit needed more support than it was receiving on a local level.  The federal government needed to step in and in 1964 The Urban Mass Transit Act was initiated and brought in federal funding of transit construction.   Following this, there was a boom in the number of light rail systems constructed in a number of cities.

However, these federal subsidies were aimed at boosting the construction of new lines rather than maintaining the existing ones.  New York City was forced to look after its subway system alone, without much help and this was at a time when its tax base was decreasing owing to the fact that many middle classes affluent residents were moving out to the suburbs.

After World War II, the subway system was faced with growing competition from the private automobile and because the economic problems of the subway system had never fully been dealt with, it nearly collapsed in the 1970s.   Fortunately, that didn’t happen and since the 1980s much has been done to improve the system.  The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has laid miles of new track, renovated many stations and purchased hundreds of new cars.   The construction of new subway lines is also being discussed.

On a cautious note, many of the new lines remain in the planning stages.  Things change, political and economic conditions get altered.    The subways renewal is always subject to the financial controls and checks of the municipal government and the often distain of the federal government.   But there is optimism in the air and some progress has brought about a sense of hope.  New Yorkers will not give up on their subway. Things are perhaps looking promising for the subway’s second century. Continue your exploration of New York’s urban landscape with our latest uncovering of its forgotten subway stations.

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