Skeleton Keys to New York’s Secrets, Free While Supplies Last

Key to the City gives anyone access to 24 locations around all five of New York’s boroughs.

Key to the City kiosk


This summer hundreds of New Yorkers will be seen hastily undoing padlocks, ducking through creaky gates, and rifling through strange P.O. boxes. Do not be alarmed!

The city-wide security breach is part of the public art project Key to the City. Anyone can simply retrieve free keys at a kiosk in Times Square (pictured above), and those keys unlock 24 locations across the city’s five boroughs, which are listed on the Key to the City website. These locations include secret gardens, hidden rooms, and tiny electrical panels.

Since it launched last Thursday, hundreds

of New Yorkers have already participated in the large-scale scavenger hunt, which borrows its name from the symbolic welcoming gesture relegated to visiting dignitaries and heads of state.

Key to the City

The piece was conceived by Honduran-born artist Paul Ramírez Jonas, who has worked with keys before, to symbolize ownership and civic pride. It was produced by the spectacle-specializing Creative Time and even has a key-making sponsor: Keys can be copied by visiting participating Medeco dealers around New York.


Key-masters are busy documenting their experience on Flickr, and here are a few of the quirkier locations that are being unlocked as we speak.

Gleason Gym

A key unlocks a locker at Brooklyn’s Gleason Gym. “Like all lockers,
this one is yours as long as your lock is on it,” reads the text, which
we hope means people are already storing all sorts of odd possessions in

George Washington Bridge

Some are locations located right in plain sight, like the George Washington Bridge into the city. Key-holders get access to the supposedly locked-off pedestrian walkway, although one person commented the gate was already wide open.

Gracie Mansion


The key doesn’t guarantee unfettered access to city landmarks: Though it opens up a room in Gracie Mansion, key-holders must first take a guided tour of the home.

Creating public art is part of the game at this location, a community development center in the Bronx named The Point.

Some of the clues about the locations are just plain mysterious, like at this Queens tortilleria: “At home as well as in the world, some of the best rooms are not for
the guests.”


The most far-flung lock location is near the southernmost point of New York, in Staten Island’s Conference House Park.

How long it will take for someone to hit all 24 locks?








About the author

Alissa is a design writer for publications like Fast Company, GOOD and Dwell who can most often be found in Los Angeles. She likes to walk, ride the bus, and eat gelato