My continuing quest to see everything in New York City

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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.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Moses,

    Your All-City New York website offers a unique perspective on understanding city demographics, that can be of great use when doing research. I agree that the best way to understand this city is to walk it (no disrespect to those open-deck tour bus companies out there). I also hate to walk around the city snapping photographs unless absolutely necessary, as it often distracts from taking in everything that is going on around you.

    Great work!