Imagining a New York where the streets are named for women

September 9, 2019 Alex Williamson
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On street signs, subway stations, neighborhoods and buildings, the names of historically significant men are plastered all across New York City.

Bleecker Street.

Astor Place.

Lincoln Center.

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Even Downtown Brooklyn’s Schermerhorn Street is named for 18th-century Dutchman Peter Schermerhorn, best remembered for having owned a large rope factory.

What would it be like to live in a city where everything was named for notable women instead?

That’s the question posed by the City of Women map, currently on display at the Transit Museum’s “Navigating New York” exhibit. The map was co-created by geographer and writer Joshua Jelly-Schapiro and prominent feminist critic and essayist Rebecca Solnit, author of “Men Explain Things to Me.”

Together, Solnit and Jelly-Schapiro wrote “Nonstop Metropolis,” a book of imagined maps (such as the City of Women map) and essays that won the Municipal Art Society’s prestigious Brendan Gill Prize in 2017.

The museum will unveil an updated version of the map on Sept. 19 during a conversation with Jelly-Schapiro and New York Times contributor Julie Scelfo. The discussion will explore the significance of place names and challenge the status quo of the world’s overwhelmingly male naming system.

The City of Women map reimagines the city’s subway system as a landscape devoted to its defining women, where Lorimer Street is replaced with Barbara Streisand Street, Astoria Boulevard becomes Ethel Merman Boulevard and 18th-century attorney John Chambers is ousted from lower Manhattan by Beyoncé.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Emma Lazarus and Zora Neal Hurston get an overdue shout out as well.

The project was intended to pay “homage to some of the great and significant women of New York City in the places where they lived, worked, competed, went to school, danced, painted, wrote, rebelled, organized, philosophized, taught and made names for themselves,” Solnit said in a statement.

The updated version of the City of Women map will add more than 80 names and take into account some of the subway system’s major changes in recent years, including the extension of the 7 line to Hudson Yards and the opening of the Second Avenue Subway.

The conversation between Scelfo and Jelly-Schapiro and map unveiling will take place at the Transit Museum on Sept. 19th at 6:30 pm. Tickets are $15, or $10 for museum members. For tickets and info, go here.

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