5000 Payphones Relive New York City’s Gritty 90s

The popular image of New York City today is of a shiny global capital — a sleek and modern, 24-hour city with a booming economy and internationally influential art and design scene.

How quickly the world has forgotten New York’s gritty reputation only 20 years ago. New York’s urban form hasn’t changed much since 1993 – but the culture sure has. In the 80s wealth quickly drained into the leafy suburbs, leaving behind a hollow, dirty and rough cityscape largely inhabited by socially marginalized people and fringe cultures. New York City in the 80s and 90s was a place of crime, rats, sex shows, police, drugs and punks: a place most people didn’t want to be.

Recalling 1993 is a project that pays homage to the City’s relatively recent past. It is an immersive journey into New York in 1993 — its people, streetscapes, and stories. The project looks past the contemporary glitz and intense capital investment of today to a much different city whose tough reputation kept most people away. As you will discover with the project, despite its bad reputation, New York City was home to a tight and vibrant community with its own landmarks, villains, mascots and heroes.

Recalling 1993

Making use of 5000 pay phones across Manhattan, Recalling 1993 invites you to listen to stories from the athletes, journalists, activists, celebrities, club kids, bouncers, historians, hustlers, artists, punks, coaches, hippies and nuns who inhabited the streets 20 years ago. The intimacy of the stories gives access to authentically re-experience the city as it was in 1993, and are broad ranging in subject matter, with topics like art, culture, crime, hop hop, gentrification, nightlife, fashion and real estate.

Recalling 1993

Recalling 1993 is a project by New York City’s New Museum that thoughtfully takes art out of the white-space gallery and into the city’s streets. While making the city into a gallery is not a new concept, Recalling 1993 is notable in its coverage and breadth. The use of pay phones is also interesting as they are “one of the last remaining relics of that time”, a dramatic testament to how much this city has changed in 20 years.

Recalling 1993 also has an online component: all 5000 recordings can be accessed on the project’s website, using an easily navigable, overlaid google map of Manhattan. You can even virtually explore the city with Streetview as you listen, enriching the stories with the experience of the locations they take place in.

Recalling 1993

Another interesting element of this project is its contribution to New York City’s brand. Part of New York’s identity is that it is a tough place. But now, it’s a safe, clean, genteel and heavily invested-in city. Nevertheless, the toughness of New Yorkers remains a globally famous brand. Recalling 1993 appeals to this mythical time, solidifying what it means to be an authentic New Yorker and projecting this identity out into the world.

Recalling 1993

Recalling 1993 is a quality project that will undoubtedly lead to thoughtful reconsiderations of New York’s cityscape. In an era of hyper-mobility, it’s important to allow for appreciations of local urban history. Knowing the city’s history makes us feel more connected to the spaces we inhabit, even if we are new comers. Recalling 1993‘s stories about specific streets people live on and use daily provide a hyper-localized art experience, and are very accessible as a result.

Now the question is, when will Google Street View let us flip between images from today and the past?