One man's mission to put New York's secret subway back on the map

A detail from Stewart Mader's combined New York-New Jersey subway map.

So here's an odd fact for you. It's possible to be less than a mile away from Downtown Manhattan, and yet not be in New York City at all. Across the River Hudson, just moments from the financial district, you’ll find the independent city of Hoboken, New Jersey.  

What's even better, for those who fancy saving a cool 30 per cent on their rent, it's served by its very own 24-hour metro: the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) subway system, which links Manhattan with the suburbs just across the river. The system means that stretches of New Jersey suburbia are more convenient for the heart of Manhattan than anywhere you’ll find in Brooklyn.

And yet, even many New Yorkers are only vaguely aware that it exists.


The 13-station PATH network first opened in 1908, just four years after the first subway line in New York proper. It shares five stations with the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) subway system; crosses the Hudson through two tunnels (one from the Village, the other from the Battery); and provides frequent services to Hoboken, Jersey City and Newark.

There are no free transfers between the two networks; but both are compatible with the Metro Card ticketing system. The PATH is as much a part of New York’s transport system as the DLR in London, or the S-Bahn in Berlin.

And yet, the city's standard subway map does its best to play down the existence of New York's second rapid transit network, showing it in the same thin blue line it uses for infrequent heavy rail services. What's even weirder is that it's entirely silent on the existence of the state of New Jersey. Look:

An extract from the current MTA subway map. Note the lack of New Jersey. 

So why has the MTA decided to exclude the PATH system? There's no rational reason for it from the perspective of the consumer, argues writer and digital media expert Stewart Mader. It's merely that, due to an accident of history, they've ended up run by different organisations.

This, Mader decided, is a bit silly. He lives in Hoboken, and works in Lower Manhattan, all of 12 minutes away on the train. And yet, "if you look at the map, you'd think there's nothing to the west of New York”.

And so, he's launched a campaign to get the MTA to start including the PATH on its subway map. It'd look something like this:

Click to expand. 

By making the map himself, Mader told us, he hoped to demonstrate to the MTA quite how easy it would be to actually, well, make this map.

This is not a new idea. As late as the 1960s, the PATH trains did appear on the subway map, albeit in a different colour to the main system:

An extract of the 1968 New York subway map.

Resurrecting this combined effort could be an easy win for the city authorities, Mader argues, expanding the functional area of the city for many residents at almost no cost. "We live in an era when capital construction is expensive. But ‘expansion’ doesn't have to mean building a new line – it can come from giving a clearer map."

Mader's campaign has attracted support from the mayors of Hoboken and Jersey City (well they would, wouldn’t they). Those who'd have to make the final decision, though, are the authorities at the MTA itself. Watch this space.

You can read more about this campaign here.

 
 
 
 

Jane Jacobs and Le Corbusier would agree on one thing: we need more social housing

Unite d’Habitation, Marseille. Image: Iantomferry/Wikimedia Commons.

Much has been written in CityMetric and beyond about the urban planning debates of the 1950s and ‘60s, that came to be characterised as a battle between master-planning and preservation. One side of the debate was personified by the father of modernist architecture, Le Corbusier, whilst the counter-argument was advanced by writer and journalist Jane Jacobs.

But when it comes to London’s housing crisis, aren’t there a few things that these two would actually agree on?

Jane Jacobs’ writing about the organic nature of self-organising communities, demonstrated, in her words, by the “intricate sidewalk ballet” of inner city neighbourhoods, should be required reading for anyone interested in how cities function. But today, Jacobs is increasingly invoked in attempts to oppose new developments of any kind. Her role in conceiving Manhattan’s West Village Houses, a low cost rented housing scheme built through New York State’s Mitchell-Lama Program, is unfortunately much less well known. It’s been suggested that if Jacobs were around today, she’d be working with New York’s housing activists. When her seminal work The Death and Life of Great American Cities was written, there were almost 2 million rent-controlled or rent-stabilised apartments in New York City; nowadays, there are fewer than half that number.

Le Corbusier, on the other hand, is too often blamed for drab high-rise blocks. But regardless of how well his followers across Europe interpreted his ideas, Le Corbusier’s vision for cities was about high quality residential blocks that also contained shops and leisure amenities and were surrounded by parkland – the original mixed use development if you like. His most famous building, Marseille’s Unite d’Habitation, consisted of 337 apartments with views of the mountains and the sea together with shops, a restaurant and a nursery school. The building was originally intended to be public housing, but the French government eventually sold off the flats to recoup costs. Alton West Estate in Roehampton and Park Hill in Sheffield are just some of the examples of Le Corbusier’s influence on the design of post-war council housing here in the UK.

Building homes for a serious business in post-war Britain. Under Attlee’s 1945 Labour Government, 700,000 new council homes were completed. In 1952, the largest architectural practice in the World was at London County Council, with 1,577 staff including 350 professional architects and trainees. These were the days of consensus, and very quickly Tory governments were actually competing with Labour governments about who could built the most council homes.

Some of the council homes built post-war have stood the test of time better than others. But what’s not in doubt is that building council homes on such a scale immeasurably changed the lives of so many families in desperate need of a decent, secure and affordable home. And so many of the post-war modernist high-rise blocks so despised by Jacobs quickly took on the organic self-organising traits that she held in such high regard and have become some of the most enduring and closely-knit communities in London.

Fast forward to 2019 and Right To Buy continues to decimate council housing stock, but perversely home ownership seems more out of reach than ever for so many. An entire generation is being forced to embrace long term private ting in a country that has some weakest protections for private tenants in Europe. Meanwhile, government spending on building new homes fell from £11.4bn in 2009 to just £5.3bn in 2015 – from 0.7 per cent to 0.2 per cent of GDP – and since then, the housing minister’s desk has been occupied by no fewer than six people.


So what would a comprehensive drive for new council and social housing on the scale of the 1945 government’s efforts look like in 2019?

Lubetkin, the architect responsible for Islington’s Spa Green Estate and Bevin Court, summed up the spirit of post-war council home building with his maxim that “nothing is too good for ordinary people”. It’s a vision that we’re trying to recreate through our own council home building programme in Islington.

One of the best opportunities for small council home building schemes is to expand upon existing communities. The vast majority of Islington’s new council housing takes the form of infill, construction on existing estates; in unloved spaces, in old garages, and in old undercrofts. These projects often involve landscaping and new amenities to enhance rather than reinvent local communities. We have built community centres and even rebuilt a library as part of council housing schemes. One Tenants’ and Residents’ Association had an idea for a new specialist over 55s block for the older residents of the estate who wanted to stay in their community.

But there’s a place for large-scale place making as well. When the Ministry of Justice closed Holloway Prison and announced that the site would be sold, Islington Council published a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) on the site. We had one aim – to send a clear signal to the market that anyone who was looking at buying the site needed to be aware of their planning obligations. Most importantly, any development on the site needed to include at least 50 per cent genuinely affordable homes. The speculation around the site came to an end on 8 March this year when Peabody Housing Association announced that it had bought it. It has committed to going well above and beyond our planning requirements, by making 600 out of a total 1000 homes genuinely affordable homes, including 420 homes for social rent. We need to see more detail on what they are proposing but this is potentially brilliant for the borough. A local grassroots group, Community Plan for Holloway, have been instrumental in ensuring that the community’s voice is heard since the site was sold.

To recreate the scale of the massive post-war council home building programmes would require a Jane Jacobs inspired level of community activism combined with the architectural idealism of Le Corbusier. But it would also need the political will from central government to help local authorities get council housing built. And that, sadly, feels as far away as ever.

Diarmaid Ward is a Labour councillor and the executive member for housing & development at the London Borough of Islington.