SURVIVING THE CITY
Vicky and Key Use Their Podcast, Surviving The City, to Create Sancuary Through Communication and Community
Surviving the City really is a perfect title for a podcast about living in New York. Or any big city in the United States really. Created during the 2020 pandemic by writer/language educator, Vicky Muñoz-Lepore & music/film artist, Key Soto to explore meaningful, intentional conversations that circle back to the complexities and paradoxes of modern city experiences, while cultivating beauty, integrity, justice, and purpose. Each episode offers about an hour and a half in discussion of a central topic, sometimes with a guest,other times simply in dialogue with one another. Yet, always with an inspiring candor, humility and empathy as they navigate possibly uncomfortable spaces with intentions to best serve considerations already formed or in the process of forming.
The two are also a married couple residing in Sunnyside, Queens for almost ten years now — Having recently moved out of their previous apartment into a co-op, as we learn from one of the episodes, in the same neighborhood — The opportunity of a new building has inspired more social interactions with their neighbors, whom, as members of a cooperative, feel less transient than the neighbors of their previous apartment building. Thus, in the halls or on the mic, the call for community has taken precedence.
Complimenting one another as co-hosts, Key often moves the conversation and Vicky expands it — There’s a working respect to let all ideas and contemplations find sufficient surface area on the table; and also an invitation to listen, even as hosts, as the podcast materializes before them. Resulting, in my opinion, in an honest and casual conversation that necessarily wrestles in real time, with some of the heavy subjects discussed.
Subjects thus far include the 2020 presidential election and the subsequent Capitol siege. And with the help of invited guests, Surviving the City has also touched on the importance of rituals, the practice of minimalism, body work, and communal storytelling. On some of the more intimate episodes they’ve spoken to the decision to have or not have children, the processing of grief and loss, and accepting help or providing it, highlighting the work of community-based organizations like Mutual Aid during the pandemic.
I met Key & Vicky in 2014 through a mutual friend and have often collaborated with Key as a music artist, who like me, grew up in The Bronx where his parents migrated to from The Dominican Republic. He studied film at City College and we eventually would discover we shared a common friend cluster. Vicky was born and raised in Boston to an Italian-American father and Puerto Rican mother. She attended Haverford College just outside of Philadelphia, moving to Philly for a brief period before moving to New York City. But her parents lived in New York, meeting while both residing in The Bronx. Vicky recounts the mythic lore of NYC, having often heard stories from family members who once lived there, as well as family photos. She’s what some would call a ‘replant’ rather than transplant due to her anterior connection to the city.
Often finding myself visiting the couple in Sunnyside at the various social gatherings they’d host, almost as a rule, interesting discussions would blossom in between the music, drinks, and laughs. This podcast feels inevitable; like an extension of those evenings in community with friends, as we touch on everything from politics to pop culture, philosophy and astrology (Vicky as a matter of fact, is an astrology consultant). And so it's usually with a more-than-casual enthusiasm, that the conversations arise and regardless of topic, encourage a deep dive.
The inspiration behind Surviving the City, as I’ve mentioned, began as a way to capture the kinds of meaningful, unfiltered conversations Key and Vicky would have in private. The project provided them with a reason to continually sit and discuss ideas they consider important and worth sharing. Not only did it hold them accountable to make time to have these talks but also, the talks themselves were always energizing. And as life partners, the recorded podcasts episodes are also intentional time set aside for the exchange of thoughts, a practice both find individually valuable.
You’ll immediately notice the episodes aren’t about the best street markets, subway life-hacks and listing the best bars, restaurants or music venues in NYC. ‘Surviving’ the city is meant in earnest. On a personal level, how we face our experiences, especially in fast-paced, urban environments — Themselves arising from the exhausting concentration of commerce and industry — Are instrumental to how we treat one another beyond the machine.
At the heart of Surviving the City is the understanding that no matter your circumstance, and in NYC there are many, community and communication are at the center of making any type of difference. Transformation is part of survival, in the sense that transcending present conditions will open passages to more options and opportunities. But it takes union, empathy and participation to creatively cultivate the type of communal city that looks out for one another, that listens, that invites possibly uncomfortable conversations in order to reach new grounds, while still making space for our differences and individuality. This is especially important as a means to combat the isolation of living in cities, and through connection, even if messy and awkward at first, becoming a participating township rather than a statistical mass to be mobilized, as nothing more than a voting-body and economy-grazing sheep.
Surviving the City is meant as a reminder that we can care for each other, show up and problem solve together — That if we figure out how to better lean on each other and build together, and do so sustainably, we won’t have to depend on institutions as we do today. Not that institutions have no place in our society, but their solutions, usually aimed at a disembodied mass, don’t always fit our individual needs. Add to this that capitalism tends towards hierarchical solutions in which privilege climbs in connection to income and status— Plainly put, the wealthier you are, the better your options. This leaves a majority of underprivileged individuals vulnerable, limited and left to find variant modes for survival. A stronger sense of community can be one of these modes. And is by no means, a new idea but it’s worth a reminder. And if we can start with the simple acknowledgement that we’re in this together...An initiating ‘hello’ to a neighbor would come a lot easier.