How New York’s Subway Map Was Reimagined for Women

Some amazing female New Yorkers get their due—including a few artists.

Molly Roy, City of Women, with detail, featuring subway route symbols from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. From Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. Courtesy of University of California Press.
Molly Roy, City of Women, with detail, featuring subway route symbols from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. From Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. Courtesy of University of California Press.

No matter how you look at it, New York City is in many ways a male-dominated place, starting with the infrastructure, where the vast majority of named streets honor men. In her new book Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City AtlasRebecca Solnit, who has written widely on the environment, politics, feminism, and art, looks to rectify that subtle elevation of men with City of Women, an all-female subway map where each stop recognizes an important woman New Yorkers.

“It’s a map that reflects the remarkable history of charismatic women who have shaped New York City from the beginning,” wrote Solnit in an excerpt from the book published in the New Yorker. Those women have made their names in all number of ways, from singer and actress Jennifer Lopez and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, just three stops apart on the 6 line in the Bronx, to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (Union Square) and judge/tv personality Judy Sheindlin (Ocean Parkway).

A number of art world figures are featured, including Peggy Guggenheim (86th Street on the 4 line), Louise Bourgeois (47th-50th Streets, Rockefeller Center), and Lucy Lippard (Prince Street). Maya Lin and Harmony Hammond share the Canal Street station where the J, N, Q, R, Z, and 6 trains converge. (See a zoomed in version here.)

The cover of Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. Courtesy of University of California Press.

The cover of Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. Courtesy of University of California Press.

Nonstop Metropolis is co-authored with Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, and artist Molly Roy served as the project’s lead cartographer. It’s the third, and likely final, book in Solnit’s atlas series, which uses imaginative maps to illustrate the culture, history, and economic realities of cities. The first two volumes are Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas and Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas.

“They’re cultural capitals, three port cities on the three coasts of the US,” Solnit told the Guardian of the trilogy’s three places, noting that “Tennessee Williams said: ‘America has only three cities, New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. All the rest are just Cleveland.’”

A map from Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. Courtesy of University of California Press.

A map from Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. Courtesy of University of California Press.

The City of Women may depict New York, but it addresses an issue that has a global reach. “Almost every city is full of men’s names, names that are markers of who wielded power, who made history, who held fortunes, who was remembered,” wrote Solnit. “Women are anonymous people who changed fathers’ names for husbands’ as they married, who lived in private and were comparatively forgot­ten, with few exceptions.”

It’s not something that is often thought about, but all three cities are actually named after men—an Italian saint (San Francisco), the Duc d’Orléans (New Orleans), and the Duke of York, brother of King Charles I (which is where, ultimately, New York comes from). Also easy to overlook are the pervasive way in which male names dominate New York place and street names, from Bleecker Street, named after a local farmer, to Columbus Circle and Hunter College (the latter originally a women’s school, but still named for Thomas Hunter).

“To make the women map was really fun. I got to learn a lot about women who have shaped the world for me, and who continue to do so for future generations,” said Roy in an email to artnet News. “It was fascinating to see how different kinds of women were/are tied to different areas of the city.”

A map from Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. Courtesy of University of California Press.

A map from Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. Courtesy of University of California Press.

City of Women changes that “manscape,” reimagining it as a feminist utopia where women’s accomplishments are given the credit and recognition they deserve. “We fixed New York,” wrote Solnit as she shared the map on Facebook.

At least one of the featured women has already expressed her approval for the revamped subway map. “I am so, deeply honored to be included,” wrote performance artist Emma Sulkowicz on Facebook, whose name appears at the 103rd Street 1 stop. She made national news for her Columbia University thesis project, in which she carried her mattress around campus in protest in the school’s handling of her rape allegations.

Nonstop Metropolis will be released on October 19, but you can already get a sneak peek at the Queens Museum, where Duke Riley and Mariam Ghani‘s artworks inspired by the book have been on view since April.


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