Why are there steam pipes under US cities? What do they do with all that steam?

Is it just there to add atmosphere to night scenes in movies as it escapes from manhole covers?

Answer:
Steam pipes are used to efficiently heat and cool large buildings. Many cities and even Universities or other large campus structures use these frequently. They use a centralized or single building for creating steam. This steam is then transported to the buildings using them to produce heat, or in a process similar to heat pumps, cool large buildings. This way a city can dedicate a single building for heating and cooling many buildings. The college I went to had one "power plant" (it didn't produce electricity, just steam) that provided steam for most of the 50 buildings, saving tremendous space in many of these buildings.
Good for heating skyscrapers.
Steam is used for alot of purposes, like electricity and heating.My guess in the city would be heating, all the seam turbines i have seen had there on steam source.
Just a guess: used in the subway system.
I've been told that it is a by-product of power generation, used to heat buildings.

When you see it in the films it's usually where there's a leak and they've placed a vent over it to direct the steam up away from the public. But it looks good on screen.

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