My continuing quest to see everything in New York City

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It's starting....

Released yesterday was the 2005-2009 American Community Survey Data. Why is this important? Because this 5-year sample data allows us to access Census-Tract Level data for the first time since 2000. Instead of being limited to Public-Use-Microdata-Areas (PUMAS), which are more or less the size of a Community Board, and generally have over 100,000 residents, we can now access information for Census Tracts - areas as small as a few square city blocks, with populations of only a few thousand people.

The NY Times has already started with a series of maps focusing (somewhat predictably) on race and Hispanic ethnicity. What's a bit strange about this is that 2010 Census Data - which includes race information - is due to be released starting in February. This will be much more up-to-date, with 100% data from 2010 as opposed to sample data (with a margain of error) from 2005-2009. In the meantime, there's a wealth of new information on income, housing, immigration, language, ancestry, and geographic mobility available for micro-demographic analysis that won't be in the 2010 Census release. Go check it out - I know I am. I hope the Times is also.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Conflux Panel

Lots of fun at the Conflux Festival - a really great group of people coming together, some of whom I'd been wanting to meet for a while. I got to be on a panel with Steve Duncan, Julia Solis, and Miru Kim, which you can check out here - be warned it's 2 hours and the sound isn't so great.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

City Line

When the 2010 Census information comes out there's going to be a lot of interesting stories, one of which is the growth of the South Asian community in Ozone Park, which has been spilling over the border into Brooklyn lately. As I've written before, the land border between Brooklyn and Queens is growing increasingly irrelevant. A few blocks into East New York and you'll still see statues of Ganesha, red and yellow flags, and saris in the windows of the clothing shops on Liberty Avenue. In 2000, the neighborhood was about 15% Asian, and I'm sure that's at least doubled in the last decade.

There's a lot of linguistic, religious, ethnic diversity among the South Asian community in Ozone Park/Richmond Hill (although only some of which you can determine from the census), with small pockets of different communities. From what I can tell form the 2000 census and my walk, the community in City Line is mostly Hindu and Indo-Caribbean.

Neighborhoods: City Line, East New York
Tracts Walked: B1182.01, B1182.02, B1184, B1186, B1188, B1202

Monday, September 20, 2010

Three State Walk - September 25th

Haven't you always wanted to walk in three states in one day? September 25th, in conjunction with the good folks from "Hey, I'm Walkin' Here" I'll be leading a walk that does just that.

Starting at 177th and Ft. Washington (A train to Ft. Washington - exit near the front of the train), at 8:30 sharp,we'll walk over the GW Bridge to Ft. Lee, NJ, head back across and over to the Bronx, walk through the North Bronx to the historic Boston Post Road, and then follow the Boston Post Road all the way through Westchester to Connecticut. We'll have dinner, and then head back to NYC on Metro North, which will cost you $7.50.

The total distance is 24 miles, and you can see the route here - it should take about 10 hours.

I know the starting time is brutal, but I want to finish before dark. Amazingly, the A train has no major service changes this weekend, however the #1 train is suspended so if you were planning on taking that, switch your plans to the A.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Kew Gardens

Most walks through the boroughs of New York are fairly boring, but also fairly pleasant. This best describes yesterday's quick stroll through north Richmond Hill and Kew Gardens, an upper-middle class Queens neighborhood marked by tree lined streets, older single family homes, a synagogue or two, and chirping crickets at twilight - which seemed a bit out of place a block away from the elevated train. A quaint little commercial area on Lefferts Avenue, and the worst (non-$1.00) pizza I've ever had on Jamaica Blvd were the only two real encounters of note. One thing that should have tipped me off about the pizza place was that instead of having the cheese in the regular glass jar, they just stuck out a green plastic container of Kraft Parmesan.

Now, I'm sure if I were looking or had researched the area a bit beforehand I would have found a quirky thing or two, but that kind of defeats my goal of getting an overall general knowledge of the entire city. Calm and static areas are as much a part of New York as Bleecker Street on a Friday night. Heading out to an otherwise nondescript area for the sole purpose of seeing the one interesting thing there isn't a bad thing, but it's another project for another day.

For people visiting the area, try to get off of Queens Boulevard, which is like hiking through the Grand Canyon and thinking you've seen Arizona.

Neighborhoods: Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill
Tracts Walked: Q128, Q130, Q132, Q135, Q136, Q140, Q142.01, Q773, Q775

Monday, September 13, 2010

Highland Park

A recent walk through East Brooklyn saw me pass the 2/3 mark of Census Tracts walked. The specific one that took me over the mark was Brookyn Tract 1142.01 - which along with its sister (Tract 1142.02) make up a lovely hillside area nestled up in an out-of-the-way corner of the Borough between Jamaica Avenue, Highland Park, and the Jackie Robinson Expressway. Hillside neighborhoods are in short supply in Brooklyn, but while the almost San Francisco-like steepness initially piqued my interest it also turned out to be a great walk in general, full of old homes of various architectural styles, unexpected views, and of course kids taking advantage of the inclined streets on various wheeled devices. Much of East New York, and East Brooklyn in general, tends to get painted with the same brush in the media. People who can name a dozen distinct neighborhoods and their characteristics in West Brooklyn don't know any two blocks are different from Utica Avenue to the City Line. This area - along with many others - serves as a reminder that East Brooklyn contains the same diversity of architecture, geography, and community as the other parts of the borough.

With most areas, I'm content to walk through them, take in the area, and check the tracts off the map. When it comes to revisiting - well, I'll see them if I see them. I've always had the goal of having a broad knowledge of the city, not a deep knowledge - I'm happier to know 10 neighborhoods a little bit rather than one neighborhood well. While there's certainly many neighborhoods that I do know well, it's generally more by circumstance than design.

Once in a while though, a tract or two will capture my imagination, and I'll put it on my list to revisit. I'll definitely be returning to that neighborhood up the hill.

For an in-depth look at Highland Park, see Brian Berger's guest page on the neighborhood at Forgotten-NY

Neighborhoods: Highland Park, Cypress Hills, East New York
Tracts Walked: B1142.01, B1142.02

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tremont Ave

The Bronx generally doesn't get a lot of love among the lots of the folks that like to walk around town, which is a shame - the borough more than holds its own in terms of history, architecture, and just general interesting stuff to see.

Four others and I walked the 7-mile length of Tremont Ave this Saturday, the longest street in the Bronx. It's actually slightly debatable as to whether or not it's actually the longest street. Bruckner Blvd (which runs underneath the length of the Bruckner Expressway) is a bit longer, although it's split into two parts, with a half-mile gap over Westchester Creek that's only transversed by the Expressway. In addition, if you separate West Tremont from East Tremont (which are one contiguous street, similar to say, East 14th and West 14th in Manhattan), East Tremont (by far the longer) also loses its "Longest Street" status to Boston Road.

Regardless of the technicalities it's still a great walk, and offers a wonderful overview of the borough. I highly recommend it as a starting point for anyone who wants to get to know the Bronx. Starting at Roberto Clemente Park by the water, is goes for one block before turning into one the West Bronx's ubiquitous staircases. After it spits you back out up on Sedgewick Avenue, it winds through the hills of University Heights, before being deposited into a bustling commercial thoroughfare through the heart of the Hispanic Bronx. It gradually becomes more industrial and much less bustling, skirts the northern edge of Parkchester, and heads down into Throggs neck where it becomes a nice remnant of an older New York, one that was mostly populated by the children of the immigrant groups of the previous great wave, whose local business lined streets like Tremont Avenue. The last few blocks are residential, and it ends at the local wedding hall, Marina del Ray.

Tremont Avenue actually only passes through 3 Census Tracts - BX53.02 where it starts, BX198 near Westchester Square, and BX132 in Throggs Neck, forming the border of tracts the rest of the way. The others listed below are the tracts we went through to get from the #4 train to the beginning of the street, and from the end of the street to the #6 train (as are the last three neighborhoods listed).

Neighborhoods: South Bronx, East Bronx, Morris Heights, University Heights, Mt. Hope, Tremont, East Tremont, West Farms, Parkchester, Castle Hill, Westchester Village, Schuylerville, Throggs Neck, Country Club, Spencer Estates, Pelham Bay.

Tracts Walked: BX217.01, BX215.02, BX215.01, BX205, BX53.02, BX198, BX132, BX118, BX130, BX158, BX162, BX160, BX274, BX276

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gay Bars and Mosques - Yawn

Now I'm sure Greg Gutfeld is currently congratulating himself on being real clever; coming up with what he supposes is a way to beat those crazy Muslims at their whole tolerency "hey we have first amendment rights too" game by proposing a gay bar (supposedly catering to Muslims, however that would work) nearby the Cordoba Initiative's community center downtown - you know the "9/11 Mosque."

While this whole thing obviously reeks of "let's drive traffic to my site" just in case he's actually serious and thinks that anyone here will care, I invite him to head down to the Corner of Washington Place and 6th Avenue, where he'll find the NYU Islamic Center located in the basement of St. Joseph's Catholic Church (another religion not really known for "looking kindly on homosexuality"). I then invite him to walk one block down Washington Place to Christopher Street and grab a drink at the Stonewall Inn.

Some people just do not get this town.

Neighborhoods: Greenwich Village

Tracts Walked: M71

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


I've been on a bit of a Queens kick lately, and when there's someone with a car who wants to walk Census Tracts with me, I'm taking the opportunity to go somewhere I can't get to easily by subway or bike. These two things led me out to the Laurelton and Cambria Heights neighborhoods in the Southeastern corner of Queens.

I really don't much to say. Far Eastern Queens, in most ways, is more Nassau than Astoria (or even Flushing), and the only way you know you've crossed the border into Valley Stream is that the street signs have a different font. The only person I've ever known that's lived in this neighborhood did so precisely because it was as close to Long Island as he could get and still be within the city limits, which was legally required by his City Government job. Houses are lovely, single-family, and mostly suburban-style detached; the foreclosure crisis of Southeast Queens seems to not have made it this far over.

After a bit we walk by Montefiore Cemetery (Rabbi Schneerson's place of burial). I was expecting some local Chabad infrastructure around the cemetery - maybe a tzotzke store, maybe a kosher restaurant, maybe even a small hotel - but all there is is a small, nondescript Chabad House. Despite the rain, and being halfway down the block, I actually get an "excuse me - you are Jewish?" from a guy leaving the building. The guy's Yiddish was better than his English - very strange for a young Chabadnick, who in this day and age almost all grow up learning the the local vernacular language as a first, or at least co-first, language.

Further north we come to Linden Blvd, which looks, well, pretty much like the rest of Linden Blvd looks throughout it's 6 miles in Brooklyn and 5 .5 miles in Queens. We stop to eat at a Haitian restaurant called Port-a-Prince. The place is somewhat schizophrenic - the interior is immaculate and looks like it could be any fancy French place in Manhattan, yet they give us plastic forks to eat with. Everyone in the place is speaking exclusively French Creole - to the point where I find myself ordering the "Poulet" and hoping for the best.

I'm rewarded. Not only is the food pretty good, in terms of "calories-per-dollar" this has got to be one of the greatest deals in the 5 boroughs - a giant heaping plate of rice, beans, salad and chicken fit for a meal for two, all for $6. I guess they save on the cutlery.

Neighborhoods: Laurelton, Cambria Heights
Tracts Walked: Q604, Q606, Q612, Q614, Q616.01, Q616.02, Q618, Q620, Q632, Q638, Q646, Q650

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The City According to NY Magazine

Hey New Yorkers - you recognize this, don't you?

No, this isn't a strange Rorschach blot. This is New York City. At least, this is what New York City looks like according to NY Magazine. Or, to put it another way:

As you probably know, Nate Silver's "Best Places to live in NYC" piece has come out in NY Magazine. Now, I am a big Nate Silver fan, mostly because he brings a much-needed dose of data-driven reality and intellectual honesty into an area - namely political writing - where very often people just make shit up and expect to be believed.

And going through the methodology for the NYC neighborhoods article, I'm more and more impressed with how Silver conducted this study - not only did he go way above and beyond the call of duty in gathering and analyzing data, he also made this great tool that lets you weigh the different criteria according to your own definition of what you want in a neighborhood. Got your panties in a bunch because Silver counts schools for 6% and you don't have any kids? Easy - adjust the weighting to make schools count for nothing, and you've got the rankings that matter to you. You can never satisfy everyone, and there's tons of debate you can have over the minutae of the methodology and results - I, for one, am on record as saying the neighborhood that ended up first is a giant social ponzi scheme. But with something like this it's easy to hate and pick out faults, but really, really tough to actually create. All in all, this is a wonderful quantitative analysis - of half of New York City.

So my problem is not with Nate Silver, my problem is what NY Magazine gave him to work with. And what he had to work with was this:

5 neighborhoods in Staten Island, representing about an eighth of the population.

7 neighborhoods in the Bronx, representing about a quarter of the population.

8 neighborhoods in Queens - including all the neighborhoods west of the BQE -representing about a third of the population.

18 neighborhoods in Brooklyn - including all of the area north and west of Prospect Park - representing about half the population.

22 neighborhoods in Manhattan consisting of the entire borough (with the exception of Marble Hill, if you want to get nitpicky).

All in all, a little under half the population of the city is represented in the 60 neighborhoods that are surveyed. As for the the neighborhoods chosen - need you ask? It's everywhere the NY Magazine readership might already consider living (all the usual yuppie and trending-yuppie neighborhoods of Manhattan, Brownstone Brooklyn, and West Queens), with a few bones thrown seemingly at random to the other parts of the city (Belle Harbor? Westerleigh? Co-op City?). In short, the "best neighborhoods" are determined by considering a self-selected sampling of neighborhoods. The best proof of this? The neighborhood everyone seems to be up in arms about getting left off is Forest Hills - the one yuppie area that wasn't included.

Silver addresses this by saying "-- The choice of neighborhoods, and the geographic boundaries assigned to them, were determined by New York magazine staff. I thought they did a very comprehensive job, on balance. It's not trivial to include additional neighborhoods because a lot of this involves counting things -- whether laundromats, toxic waste dumps, or murders -- by hand. The 60 neighborhoods within our scope are not necessarily the 60 best neighborhoods. Yes, we'll get Forest Hills included if we do this next year."

This is ridiculous. Under half the city is nowhere near a "very comprehensive job." No newspaper, magazine, or any other reputable publisher would dream of putting out an article where they analyze the 19 states East of the Mississippi River and North of the 36th Parallel, plus Montana, Florida, Alabama, Oregon and New Mexico, and then list the top 20, call the article "The Best States to Live in America," and respond to criticism of this by claiming they did a "very comprehensive job, on balance," and complaining that doing the other 25 states would be too much work. But yet, that is exactly what this article does - just substitute "New York City" for "America" and "Neighborhoods" for "States."

I don't necessarily even have a problem if NY mag wants to discount everything outside of Manhattan and Brownstone Brooklyn. But it is not "the 50 best neighborhoods to live in New York." It's "the 50 best neighborhoods to live in yuppie New York." I would have actually liked this a lot better than throwing in a few neighborhoods outside this area for what seems to be the sole purpose of showing they're considering more than Manhattan, Brownstone Brooklyn, and Western Queens. When I was in college at my very white Midwestern state school, one year they noticed the cover of a University publication happened to only feature white faces. So did they look for another scene on campus to shoot that was more diverse? No. Did they try and recruit more minorities? No. Did they even just say "hey, I guess this is who we are, so we'll just go with it." No. They used the same picture - but just photoshopped in a few random, darker faces. This is the first thing that came to my mind when I saw the neighborhood selection for the article.

Really this is about me, and many other residents and lovers of the city, being fed up with half the city being completely ignored. If you like Brownstone Brooklyn better than the East Bronx, hey, I don't have a problem with that - so do I. But I at least give both of them a chance. I don't pretend the East Bronx doesn't exist, and don't pretend that it's somehow not part of New York City. And if you only have the resources to survey half the city, why is it always taken for granted that everywhere in Manhattan, Brownstone Brooklyn, and Western Queens must automatically be included, while a few of the rest of the neighborhoods of the city maybe get squeezed in if there's room? Why not distribute them equally throughout the 5 boroughs? Or, better yet, why not first eliminate the neighborhoods where 90% of New Yorkers won't be able to even afford in the first place, instead of starting with them?

There's a lot of publications in this city that focus on one or two particular areas, or ethnic groups, or cultures. But Caribbean Life doesn't call itself "New York Life." The Jewish Press doesn't call itself the "New York Press." The Queens Tribune doesn't call itself the "New York Tribune." Only one culture - the upscale yuppie culture - has the chutzpah to focus on one part of the city and call itself "New York Magazine."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Most Desolate Place in New York

Out of the 2217 Census Tracts that make up the five boroughs of New York City, 24 have a population of zero. Ten are parks (8 part of the NYC Parks department, one part of National Parks System, and one affiliated with the Smithsonian) that have access to the public and regular visitation. Five are active cemeteries that can also be counted on to have regular visitors. Four are working environments – the Oak Point rail yards in the Bronx, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and two tracts that make up the Kings County Hospital Complex. One is LaGuardia Airport.

That leaves four Census Tracts one could reasonably call “desolate” – no permanent residents, no regular workers, and next to no visitors. One is really a ghost tract – Queens Tract 1622, which consists entirely of the Atlantic Ocean south of the Rockaways. It doesn’t even show up on the NYC Planning Department’s Census Fact Finder, but the Federal Census Bureau still lists it. Perhaps it was created to enumerate the population of Hog Island way back before it was destroyed about a hundred years ago, but I don’t even know if Census Tracts existed then. Regardless, since I can’t walk it I’m not counting it.

Two others consist of the series of marsh islands in Jamaica Bay. One of these tracts - Queens Tract 1072.02 - is easily accessed by the road between Broad Channel and the Joe Addabbo Bridge to Howard Beach, and houses the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge offices. The other - Brooklyn Tract 702.03 - is tougher, but there’s a small slice of the tract that’s on the same island. It takes a bit of trampsing through marshland, but you can get there on foot.

That leaves one Census Tract with no population, no workers, no land connection, and which is officially off-limits to visitors to boot. This is Bronx Census Tract 5: North and South Brother Islands, located at the western edge of Long Island Sound between Riker’s Island and the coast of the Bronx. I think it's fair to call this the most desolate tract in New York City.

A couple of summers ago I took a boat with Marie Lorenz out to North Brother. It was a very enjoyable few hours of exploration and relaxation, but the main purpose for me was simply to knock off what is probably the toughest Census Tract to get to in New York City.

Still, it's not exactly the South Pole - between scientists, students, reporters, and your occasional curious urbanist, the islands probably see at least a few dozen visitors a year.

Neighborhoods: South Bronx, North Brother Island. Tracts Walked: BX5

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Ohhh...We're halfway there!

I always meant to update the maps a few times a year or so, but until I can do a Census Tract overlay on Google Maps or something, it's probably not going to happen. But I've made a lot more progress than the maps (which are 2 years old now) indicate. A fairly nondescript walk in Southern Brooklyn a few months ago gave me 1,109 - or 50.1%. I'll be putting up the new, updated maps by borough in the next few weeks.

Anyway, in honor of the halfway mark I give you Bon Jovi live in Tokyo.

Friday, January 8, 2010

"Greater Harlem"

A recent article came out in the NY Times with the headline "No Longer Majority Black, Harlem is in Transition." I have some problems with the general point and tone of the article, but better social commentators than I have detailed most of them (by the way, a much, much better and more straightforward article about the changing demographics of Harlem by Queens College Sociology Professor and Demographer Andrew Beveridge can be found here). As a demographic analyst though I would like to point out some facts that the Times was sloppy about at best, and disingenuous about at worst.

First though, I want to explain why the Times uses the boundaries of "Harlem" that they do - which they make no effort to explain themselves. As it turns out, they count a huge chunk of upper Manhattan, including Morningside Heights and East Harlem. There have been a few different people who have said things like "how can they say Harlem goes down to W. 106th street? How can they count Morningside Heights as part of Harlem?" or otherwise raised the regular old "what are the official boundaries of Harlem?" discussion (for the record - there are no "official" boundaries of any neighborhood in New York).

The answer is kind of boring. The reason the NY Times defines "Greater Harlem" as "river to river, and from East 96th Street and West 106th Street to West 155th Street," is because that exact area is what corresponds to the Census Bureau's Public Use Microdata Areas (PUMAs) NY03802 (West Harlem), NY03803 (Central Harlem), and NY03804 (East Harlem) - which is what the Times uses as their source for the demographic data. PUMA 03803 actually also takes in the Polo Ground houses north of 155th street as well, which the Times neglects to mention.

Don't ask me why the Census Bureau divides up the PUMAs that way. They usually roughly follow the Community Boards, but not always exactly. In this case, the slight difference is that Community Board 9 (West Harlem) starts at W. 110th street instead of W. 106th.

Now, as to why they used those three PUMAs to define Harlem? I suspect because that's the area that gave them the headline they wanted. "About 70% Black Now, Harlem is in Transition" - which is what they would have gotten if they had used just PUMA 03803 (Central Harlem), doesn't quite have the same ring to it. Even if you combine West and Central Harlem, or Central and East Harlem, the area is still majority black.

But back to the stats: a subtle thing I realized after looking through the numbers from the 2008 American Community Survey, was that whenever the Times says "black" - as in "in 2008, according to the census, the 77,000 blacks in central Harlem amounted to 62 percent of the population" they actually aren't using the numbers for the black population at all - they're using the numbers for the non-Hispanic, non-multiracial black population. So if you're a black Puerto Rican, or if mom's African-American and your dad's Dominican, or Irish, or Chinese, you aren't counted as "black" in the Times article. And this Hispanic and multiracial black population is fairly significant - about 10,000 people in Central Harlem, or about 8% of the population.

Now, this isn't necessarily the wrong number to use. The article specifically focuses on the rise and fall of the Southern, Great Migration-era African-American population in Harlem, and the article makes an effort to discount African and Caribbean blacks from the totals as well - although it does show a serious ignorance of Harlem's history which has long had both an Anglophone and Hispanic Caribbean black population. But what makes it a disingenuous statistic are two things:

1) The article specifically says "non-Hispanic white," when talking about the white population and doesn't say "non-Hispanic black" when talking about the black population.

2) Hispanics have only been separately enumerated since 1980, and multiracial individuals since 2000. So all of the numbers the Times uses when referencing the black population up to and including its peak in 1970 were counting black Hispanics, and all of the numbers afterward were not. All the numbers up to 1990 were counting multiracial individuals who primarily identified as black, and all the numbers afterward were not. This artificially exaggerates the decline in the black population.

This is just one concrete example of the larger issue - the Times' purposeful picking and choosing of statistics in order advance the narrative that the decline in black population is more significant than it is. You have to wait until halfway through the article before they tell you that in the "Greater Harlem" area they're talking about, blacks never made up even as much as 2/3 of the population (and that includes multiracial and Hispanic blacks). Not that this would be a terribly significant piece of news, except when coupled with the realization that the article is completely designed to overemphasize the decline of the proportion of Harlem's black population.

In fact "Greater Harlem" was barely majority black (about 52%) way back in 1990 - which is probably under 50% if you coun't people who would have identified as multiracial if they could. But of course "As Black Percentage of Population Declines by 11% at Most Over 18 Years, Harlem is in Transition," sounds really awkward.