My continuing quest to see everything in New York City

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ridgewood to Maspeth

After walking up from Crown Heights, through Bed-Stuy and East Williamsburg to Queens, we continued on. We actually couldn't quite tell where Brooklyn ended and Queens began - the Ridgewood/Bushwick boundary is growing more fluid by the year. There's no difference in the street grid - I've always thought a much more natural borough boundary would either be Broadway, which separate Bushwick and Bed-Stuy, or the Ridgewood/Maspeth border, where the grid becomes the regular Queens street grid - you know, the one with 4 or 5 streets for every number.

There used to be a demographic boundary - Ridgewood was middle-class, largely white Queens, while Bushwick was low-income, mostly Puerto Rican Brooklyn (in all probability a result of racial housing discrimination in Queens). Up until the 1990 census there was a stark demarcation right along the Brooklyn/Queens border. Politically, the border was almost always the boundary between different legislative districts. Now, however, demographically Ridgewood can really be viewed as where Bushwick blends into Queens - while the area slowly grows whiter and more affluent the further you get from Brooklyn, there is certainly not the stark demarcation along the borough boundary that there used to be. And politically, city council and state legislative districts now encompass both sides of the borough border.

We walk through Ridgewood a bit, and then work our way up through the residential part of sleepy Maspeth, over to the industrial section on the west. My Hagstrom's map says that the Hagstom's factory is there, but I can't find it. The terrain is a bit hilly, yielding some beautiful views of various industrial scenes against the New York City skyline in the background. We somehow make our way under the BQE/Queens-Midtown Expressway cloverleaf up into Sunnyside. Sunnyside is kind of a poster child for the outer borough, multiethnic neighborhood, and as a result the commercial streets are generally pretty interesting to walk along. We walk along 48th Avenue for a bit (where 48th crosses Greenpoint Avenue is a pretty cool commercial area, with a Spanish-Language Theatre), then head up to Roosevelt where we eat at an overpriced restaurant (should have had my man Sietsema's Guide to Cheap Eats with me!) and catch the #7 back home. It's been one of the more long and satisfying borough trekking days I've had in a while.

Neighborhoods: Ridgewood, Maspeth, West Maspeth, Sunnyside. Tracts Walked: Q549, Q589, Q587, Q593, Q601, Q599, Q525, Q527, Q529, Q219, Q205.01, Q205.02, Q235, Q185, Q189

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bed-Stuy to Bushwick

A lovely walk with a lovely lady up Nostrand through Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy, and then over through East Williamsburg into Queens. Nostrand's an interesting enough commercial drag, pretty typical working-class borough fare, nice Brownstone side streets as you go further up. Around DeKalb the area starts to change to Hassidic, with a smattering of Pratt art student types (is this considered "Clinton Hill" yet by the Real Estate crowd)? By the time I get to Marcy it's almost entirely Hassidic - in addition to the people, apartment buildings with a million tiny balconies (used to house Sukkahs for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot) give it away. I have to give it the Hassids - instead of the ticky-tacky used to throw up pretty much any housing development today, all the new buildings are legitimately made solidly out of brick.

We head up into Hassid Williamsburg, and walk the main the main commercial drag for a bit. The strollers are everywhere, and signs saying "no strollers in store" are also everywhere. The default seems to be to just leave the stroller (complete with baby) outside while you shop, knowing someone will keep an eye on everyone.

I'll be interested to read the language data for the area in the 2010 census. According to the 2000 census data, Yiddish still seemed to be the lingua franca of the community, but judging by what I hear and read on the streets, English seems to be becoming the dominant language. There's still some Yiddish signs and conversation in the streets (although a lot of Hassids have a habit of mumbling so low while talking it's pretty much impossible for a passerby to even tell what language they're speaking, much less what they're saying), but I'd say it's running about 60-40 English nowadays - still though, a lot more Yiddish is used than other Hassidic communities, never mind Jewish communities in general.

There's actually a lot more interesting Demographic differences among the different Hassidic communities. If you're super-interested in this stuff, you can download (Word Format) my paper demographically comparing the Crown Heights and Williamsburg Hassidic communities.

We leave the Hassidic area and head East into the industrial part of Williamsburg by Newton Creek. There's a few loft conversion of the old industrial buildings, and we encounter some 20-something hipsters doing skateboard tricks on one of the streets, but in general it's pretty empty - lots used for old auto storage, stuff like that. I cut my head open ducking through a hole in the fence to take a leak behind an abandoned factory. We cross the Grand Street bridge and head Southeast to Bushwick.

I figured there would be some stray exiles from Williamsburg, but there also a couple young ladies of the big-sunglasses, ill-fitting tight designer jeans variety around the Jefferson street L-train stop (although they are looking lost). We make our way down St. Nicholas and Wykoff, before heading north into Ridgewood. I can't tell who the recent arrivals are - the area seems to be becoming more Mexican and maybe a bit South American as the older Puerto Rican population moves out. Again, I can't wait for the 2010 census data.

Neighborhoods: Crown Heights, Clinton Hill, Bed-Stuy, Williamsburg, Southside, South Williamsburg, East Williamsburg, Bushwick. Tracts Walked: B317.01, B317.02, B315, B247, B245, B243, B241, B239, B531, B509, B511, B505, B493, B483, B455.97, B447, B445, B443, B441

Saturday, February 16, 2008


It's - well, it's Flatbush. Brooklyn. Not much more to say. A combination of Flatbush, Ocean Avenue, and various side streets to take me south to DiFara's. Dense, bustling on some streets, with various business typical of the not-so-rich parts of the boroughs and large apartment buildings; quiet, beautiful old Victorian houses on others, dirty light industrial areas on other thoroughfares. While this might seem a bit of a conflicted neighborhood, the general feeling of comfortable shabbiness holds it all together. It's Flatbush. Neighborhood gets less Caribbean and more orthodox Jewish further south, but there's always at least little pockets of everybody. The area around the Newkirk Avenue Q-stop pretty much is the neighborhood is microcosm. I hit DiFara's to discover they've raised their prices and the line is out the door. Forget it. Unfortunately it's Saturday. That means nothing else is open in this neighborhood. I continue on South, finding an interesting little Turkish area down Coney Island Avenue and King's Highway where I grab a bite. I feel nice, comfortable, relaxed, at home the whole walk. It's Flatbush.

Neighborhood: Flatbush, Ditmas Park, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Prospect Park South, Madison. Tracts Walked: B798, B796, B508, B510, B514, B518, B520, B764, B762, B532, B534, B540, B542, B554


New York City's largest housing project (and former home to Ron Artest, Nas, and many others) doesn't have quite the same rep it once did - my old walk home took me up Vernon Boulevard behind the projects countless times at 3:00 AM. The Park behind the projects has some of best views of the city you'll find (and a great vantage point for the OATS piece across the River on Roosevelt Island). North of the Queensbridge projects, but south of the Ravenswood projects on 36th Ave is an interesting, mostly industrial area, noteworthy for some vintage cabs you'll find parked on the street, a wonderful-smelling donut (I think) factory, the huge, Mr. Burns-esque power plant, and the WallNuts. Really, if you are at all into commissioned graffiti murals, I really must insist you wander around industrial Long Island City. Anywhere North of Queensbridge and West of about Crescent the WallNuts have on lockdown.

Neighborhood: Long Island City, Queensbridge. Tracts Walked: Q25, Q35, Q37, Q39, Q41, Q43, Q27, Q29, Q49

Friday, February 15, 2008

Crown Heights North

Up Washington street and across Bergen from my place to a friend's house.   Washington is actually a great street to bike on - probably my favorite North-South route through Brooklyn.   Walking is fairly nondescript - a stray sushi joint or fancy bistro among the Jamaican take-out places shows how this area is going.   As does the Thursday night Karaoke scene at the Starlight Lounge: Brooklyn's oldest non-discriminating (that means gay), black-owned bar in the hood is now also frequented by a handful of both queer and not-so-queer white, hipsterish folks (myself included) in addition to the middle-aged regulars.   I sing Madonna and take bets on how long it'll be before you don't have to get buzzed in anymore. 

Neighborhood: Crown Heights North.  Tracts Walked: B219, B221, B315

Monday, February 11, 2008

High Line

I first walked the High Line about 5 years ago or so, and since then construction on making it a pedestrian promenade has taken over the southern half, and soon the northern half. The first visit is always the funnest - and it was one of the first "technically off-limits" places I'd gone in New York. It was the middle of the day and the unique vantage point of walking through (well, above) a bustling Chelsea was really cool. I found a conveluted way down near the southern end that ended up with me swinging down from the awning of a meat packing plant - since demolished - onto West 13th street.

I have mixed feelings on the whole promenade thing: it's always sad to see another little corner of the city go, but I'm happy that's there more public access to interesting places (this article really puts it better than I can). I really hope they integrate some of landmarks of the old High Line with the new promenade: the little garden near the northern end complete with lighted up mini-Christmas tree, the graffiti in the loading docks of the southern end, one of the last REVS COST murals you can still find in Manhattan near the middle. I can't say I'm optimistic on this point though. This town is all timing - you've got to see it before it's gone.

More thoughts on the High Line here

Neighborhood: Chelsea, West Side. Tracts walked: M83, M99

Little Korea in the Bronx?

For whatever reason, I love this area up in Bedford Park off the northern part of the Concourse. It's recently started to be home to the first significant Asian community in the Bronx, centered around a couple blocks of 204th street.   Koreans neighborhoods are kind of like some of the African-American neighborhoods in town - it seems like for every three people, there's a storefront church.   But the Koreans are just one of many communities in the area - it seems to be one of those neighborhoods like Ditmas Park or Kensington: a little corner of genuine integration in an otherwise largely segregated city.   Maybe it's this, maybe it's that I love the Bronx and especially the Concourse, maybe it's the day, but there is just an incredibly friendly, positive vibe coming off this area.   Last time I was there an incredibly old-school lunch counter (complete with soda fountains) was still hanging on, staffed by two ladies that has to be in their 80s.   That helped a lot also.

Neighborhood: Bedford Park.   Tracts Walked: Bx411, Bx413


Yup, there's gated communities in New York, but they're not THAT gated anymore. Seagate is pretty much straight out of the suburbs on the Western tip of Coney Island - it's even got a abandoned lighthouse. I'm always curious as to the legalities of how private neighborhood ownership came about. I'm sure in the 70s and 80s there was a little more segregation from the rest of Coney, but now days it's not too difficult to visit. Wonderful views of the Verrazano can be had as well. The area nowadays is way more orthodox Jewish than I would have guessed.

More can be found here

Neighborhood: Seagate. Tracts walked: B336

Avenue U

I don't really go by the various sub-neighborhood names of southern Brooklyn (If it's between Canarsie and Bensonhurst, it's Flatbush to me), but I'll stick "Homecrest" in there instead of "Sheepshead Bay" for the Avenue U area. Nowdays it's Brooklyn's other Chinatown (or New York's other, other, other, other Chinatown), and one of my favorite areas. I can't tell what area of China most of the people are from, and census data (8 years out of date now anyway) doesn't go deep enough into linguistic and provincial differences among Chinese immigrants, so I resolve to ask a few locals next time I'm there. A great, old time independent donut shop is still hanging on around East 16th street or so.

Neighborhood: Homecrest, Sheepshead Bay. Tracts walked: B576, B578, B580, B582

86th Street (Brooklyn)

Even 5 or 6 years ago you would still definitely call Bensonhurst Italian, with some Russians and Chinese also. When I walk down the eastern part of 86th street now it's pretty much indistinguishable from Brighton Beach Avenue, complete with elevated train running above. Italian businesses seem more like vestiges now. The best key lime pie I ever ate was from 86th street, but I think the bakery is gone now.

Neighborhood: Bensonhurst, Bath Beach. Tracts walked: B278, B284, B288, B290, B296, B298

Saturday, February 2, 2008


Who are you?

My name's Moses Gates. I’m an Urban Planner, Demographer and licensed New York City tour guide. 

What do you mean by "see everything in New York City?" 

Well, "everything" is a pretty strong word, and one that you obviously can't take completely literally. But in essence, it means I'm always up for seeing something new to me in this city. 

Why did you walk all 2217 Census Tracts?

It has always been my goal to have a general knowledge of the entire city. There's a lot of different things that go into this - reading, talking to people, exploring infrastructure. One of these things is simply visiting the different areas of the city. I'll never say I know the entire city for many reasons - not the least being that New York City is too big and changes entirely too fast to fully keep up with. Still, not being able to accomplish this goal doesn't mean that it isn't worthwhile to pursue it. Plus walking is good exercise, and seeing the city is a worthwhile hobby.

How long have you been doing this?

Walking? Since I was about 9 months old. Keeping track of where I've walked in New York City? Since about 2005, although I've also retroactively added some places I know I've walked before I started systematically keeping track. I started this site in February of 2008.

What's a census tract?

A census tract is simply a division used by the U.S. Census bureau to collect and analyze demographic information. A typical Manhattan Census tract is something like 5 North-South blocks by 2 East-West blocks, although the size and shape can vary dramatically depending on land use and population density. The parts of the boroughs that use any sort of regular grid pattern for streets generally have tracts that are about the same size or slightly larger, while more suburban and rural parts of the city (most notably Staten Island) have much larger tracts. Parts of the city without a significant permanent population (parks, airports, unpopulated islands, train yards, cemeteries) are generally one very large census tract.

The Census bureau also slightly changes and updates the tract borders each census. However, since the 2010 Census actually resulted in 50 fewer Census Tracts, I still used the 2000 boundaries.

The NYC department of City Planning has a wonderful interactive map of New York City where you can view demographic information by census tract here.

What do you mean by "visit?"

It depends on the tract. Central Park, for instance, takes a lot longer to get to know than 8 nondescript blocks of Canarsie. For normal residential tracts I generally tried to at least walk one main street and one side street. For larger tracts it's really just until I feel like I have a good general knowledge of the area. One important factor is the character of the tract. For instance, you can easily visit the Sunnyside Rail Yards (Queens tract 171) just by walking the 39th street bridge over the yards, but that's hardly the point now, is it?

Why Census Tracts?

Because they are the smallest way to divide up the city and still have this be a fun and realistic project. Larger divisions (Community Districts, Zip Codes) aren't much of a challenge, and wouldn't really provide a knowledge of the entire city.

Smaller divisions (which would be census block groups or even individual streets) are unrealistic and tedious (except for this guy). Some people have walked every street in Manhattan, but that's a small part of the entire 5 boroughs.

Why walking?

Because it's the best way to see the city. Driving or biking, you're concentrating on driving or biking, not really on seeing what's around you. And visiting an area is more than just seeing what's around, it's being able to interact with what's around, which you can't do simply riding in a bus, bike, car or train through an area.

Why no pictures?

There are many, many people who walk around town taking pictures. A lot of them can be found here. I find taking pictures to be kind of distracting, in addition to immediately pegging you as an outsider most places. Occasionally when I'm in the mood I'll take pictures, usually if it's a fairly unpopulated area or I don't know of anyone else who has.

How do I find what you've written about a particular area?

Use the "search" box on the left to search by neighborhood or census tract. If you're searching by census tracts, use the first letter of the Borough (use Bx for the Bronx) followed by the tract number. Eliminate all "zero's" at the beginning of the tract number. If you want to know what tract a certain address is in, you can look it up here.

You can also look up posts by borough, read about my favorite areas of the city, and look up some of the more interesting walks by using the links above the search box.

I'd love to make an interactive map someday, but I'm not really a computer guy. Even the regular progress maps are kind of a pain to make, and are only updated once or twice a year.

Are you the first person to do this?

While I don't think anyone else has tried to systematically visit all the Census Tracts in the city, I wouldn't be that surprised to find out I'm wrong. In addition, there are most assuredly people who have ended up visiting almost all of the Census Tracts simply by having a job, hobby, or other motivation that required them to travel extensively throughout New York. If I do manage to visit all 2,217 tracts I'd be fairly confident I'd be the first person to do so simply because there are a handful of tracts that don't have public access and are pretty tough to get to. Again though, I wouldn't be that surprised to learn I was wrong.

Do you give tours or lead walks?

I don't do a whole lot of tours anymore either, but if you've got an idea, hit me up.

I'll also occasionally lead a casual walk to somewhere interesting in the boroughs if the mood and circumstances hit. A couple other people who do this and are worth tagging along with are Kevin Walsh and Matt Green.

You call this "All-City." You write?

Nope. The time, energy and expense (paint, bail money) it takes to be one of the few truly All-City writers anymore absolutely dwarfs what I've put into this project. In addition I'm a horrible artist.

Still, it's the same general philosophy of being everywhere that drove me and this project, which is why I used the name. When a writer is truly All-City, you’re not surprised when you find their tag anywhere in the 5 boroughs, from a derelict corner of Far Rockaway to a Fifth Avenue Penthouse, from Bronx subway tunnels to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge.

This is the approach I’ve taken to being an explorer and guide in New York - that everywhere in the city is interesting. That every borough, every community, every block is worth visiting. That everything, regardless of how strange, remote, or seemingly inaccessible it might be, should be seen.