The City So Nice They Walked It Twice
Original story by Joshua Rothman ( The New Yorker )
A few years ago, William Helmreich, a sociology professor at CUNY, wrote a book called “The New York Nobody Knows.” Helmreich had spent four years walking every block in the five boroughs—that’s a hundred and twenty thousand blocks and six thousand miles. He had produced a street-level biography of the whole city. I read it and found it fascinating. Eventually, I met Helmreich, and we walked around the Bronx together. Three things were immediately clear: he loved New York, he loved people, and the people of New York loved him. On Charlotte Street, in the South Bronx, a man strolled up and said, “Hey, I saw you here two years ago!” They talked for twenty minutes, like old friends; when, in the middle of their conversation, the man had to run a brief errand, he asked Helmreich to babysit his young daughter.
Many New Yorkers daydream about exploring the areas of the city they don’t know. But actually doing it is incredibly difficult. Ten years ago, Ben McGrath wrote a Talk of the Town story about a man who walked all of Manhattan; that’s an impressive achievement, but even the dreariest Manhattan blocks are more interesting than the service road alongside the B.Q.E. Moreover, to walk all of New York within a reasonable time frame, you have to do it all year round; most likely, as Helmreich did, you’d also have to walk after dark. Helmreich wasn’t just game, in other words. He was dedicated. He allowed neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night to stop him from his appointed rounds.
I was, therefore, amazed to learn that there was another person walking the five boroughs: a thirty-something man named Matt Green. Green isn’t a sociologist; he’s more like an inexhaustibly curious visitor. He, too, has walked more than six thousand miles within the city limits. Unlike Helmreich, who records what he sees in his capacious, near-eidetic memory, Green takes photographs with his phone. He posts the photos to a blog, ImJustWalkin.com. Before he decided to walk all of New York City, Green walked across the United States, from New York to Oregon. Helmreich commutes into the city from his house on Long Island. Green, by contrast, has no apartment or job. He walks full-time and stays with friends. His venture is funded by donations.
Obviously, we had to introduce Green and Helmreich. The film that resulted, directed by Riley Hooper, touches on many subjects: nature, race, identity, gentrification. In some ways, it captures the difficulty every New Yorker faces in comprehending a city which is always beyond us as individuals. It’s also a classic New York romance. These two big-city wanderers are kindred spirits. Now—with a little help—they’ve found each other.
If you want to check out this post on the New Yorker, click here.