Key to the City: A Little Bit Lame


Key to the City, a project by artist Paul Ramirez Jonas, kicked off last Thursday at their kiosk in Times Square. The venture has had a huge turnout so far — with lines closing early on account of all the wannabe key-bearers. We tried to attain one of the hot-commodity keys twice before making it all the way through the line ourselves. Unfortunately, after waiting over an hour with some stranger for the key exchange ceremony, then trekking to Corona, Midtown, the Financial District, Carroll Gardens, and Melrose over the course of a week to unlock some of the locations, we can’t say it’s been entirely worth it.

We will say there have been some high points — checking out real estate in some of our yet-ventured neighborhoods has been riveting! But mostly, once we reached a Key to the City lock we had to stop and ask ourselves, “Why are we here again?”

Oh, right, the description says it’s something about “reflecting on common space in the city.” Or was it “awarding ourselves and each other for good deeds?” Or maybe it was about “making us aware that the city is a series of spaces that are locked or unlocked?” Enlightening.

The fact that the mission of the project is so vague is reflected in its execution and at times feels gimmicky — like a giant public relations exhibition.

For instance, we took the G train (the formidable G!) down to Carroll Gardens to check out what the Cabinet Magazine lock would reveal. The directions led us into an ally where a Plexi box was attached to a brick wall. Upon unlocking, we were startled by the sound of a couple singing an unrecognizable show tune — the rest of the box was empty. We trekked our ass all the way to Brooklyn on the G train to stand for 30 seconds in front of an empty, singing box. Yeah, we reflected on the “common space” a bit, and had a pretty fucking common experience.

Lackluster lock locations haven’t been the only problem — some of the them have even had major glitches. We checked out Bryant Park for our first Key to the City excursion. The lock was on a box attached to a lamp post (near ‘Witchcraft, our directions dutifully informed us) and inside was a light switch. Awesome! We get to control the amount of synthetic light Bryant Parkers experience during the day time! Yeah, it’s not that cool. And the bulb was out.

The Trinity Church location was also malfunctioning. We were supposed to be allowed into a small, closed-off graveyard housing Alexander Hamilton’s tomb. The gate was already hanging wide open at our arrival, the chain-lock dangling in disappointment.

On a happier note, the most enjoyable excursion so far has been to Tortilleria Nixtamal in Corona, where we unlocked the all-natural, no preservatives kitchen in which we were allowed to make our own tortillas. We bought a delicious pork/chipotle tamale on our way out, and wished the Mexican establishment a good game in the World Cup this Friday. They’re opening up a bar on location just for the event.

The Centro Cultural Rincon Criolo wasn’t too bad either, but it’s definitely a destination for people who have time to sit and enjoy the community garden the key unlocks. Otherwise, you’ve just spent $2.25 on 45 minute train ride to the Bronx to see something that’s already visible.

Our advice: if you still feel compelled to participate in the project, avoid locations that tell you to open a mystery box, and instead venture to the parks, gardens, or graveyards you would otherwise have no reason to explore. Go on the weekends when you have time to enjoy the locations — you have until late August.

As for us, though, we’re kind of ready to lock up for good.