Culture

What if Every Subway Stop Was Named After a Woman?

"How does it impact our imaginations that so many places in so many cities are named after men and so few after women?" This is one of the many existential questions that informed activist and author Rebecca Solnit's latest project.

Solnit has been analyzing space, cities and the people that occupy them since the '90s, with books like A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Wanderlust, The Faraway Nearby, A Book of Migrations. Meanwhile, many know her best for her cultural and political criticism in books like Men Explain Things To Me, Hope In The Dark and The Mother of All questions.

Her first original cartography came in 2010, with the reimagined atlas of the San Francisco Bay Area, Infinite City. She repeated the project with New Orleans in 2013's Unfathomable City.

In 2016, she took on New York City alongside Joshua Jelly-Shapiro, with Nonstop Metropolis, which maps the city through lenses of language, club culture and dance, radio, the Caribbean diaspora, wildlife, the cultural production of hip-hop, and institutional violence, addressing the geography of the Bronx fires of the '70s.

It was in this edition, that she turned to this question of women and space. Within the book is a revised MTA subway map. Each stop name (many of which are lifted from the white, monied male surnames of their streets, like Fulton, Astor, Columbus, Bedford, Rockefeller) has been renamed for a woman who has shaped NYC's history.

Instead of 79th or 72nd street, you can grab the 1/2/3 at the Nora Ephron or Joan Didion stops. Instead of Union Square, the 4/5/6 trains converge with the L and the Q at Hannah Arendt station. Grace Jones sits between Alicia Keys and Georgia O'Keefe on the E train.

The lines that run through the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island are notched by the names of daughters of the boroughs like Aaliyah, Shirley Chisholm, Foxy Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Jennifer Lopez, Lena Horne, MC Lyte, Sonia Sotomayor, Christina Aguilera, and Barbara Streisand.

The original map includes all legends you'd expect, as well as many we don't think about enough. Patti Smith is the 2nd avenue L stop. But the map also reminds us that Sojourner Truth lived in the a few stops away after freeing her son from slavery.

In a new version of the map called "City of Women 2.0," now available as an individual print poser, Solnit and Shapiro have updated the map with 69 new names, of women who've changed the world (or at least gotten recognition for doing so) since then.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez replaces the Queens' Hunts Point Avenue 6 stop. Her neighbor, Cardi B is over at the 174-175 Street B/D stop. Meanwhile, Fort Greene's Franklin A/C stop is labeled with the name of New Yorker writer and millennial soothsayer Jia Tolentino.

"This map was made to sing the praises of the extraordinary women who have, since the beginning, been shapers and heroes of this city that has always been, secretly, a City of Women," Solnit says.

The City of Women 2.0 map is currently available as a poster at haymarketbooks.org.

Photo courtesy of Haymarket Books

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