How it all works.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
I don't want to turn this into a blog of other people's maps but I have to show you this. I was going through my old bookmarks just now and a website that was full of porn the last time I checked (years ago) *ahem*is now dedicated to maps. Beautiful Chinese maps. Look at these. Gorgeous.
This is just from one page. There are hundreds of pages.
Monday, November 22, 2010
I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about local history or do any research at all before I went to a neighborhood to troll for maps and that I was only going to comment on current conditions and first impressions but I realise now that this approach is silly and ignorant and does a disservice both to myself and the neighborhood I’m attempting to describe. A neighborhood today is the product of its history; its fabric, culture and demographic the result of decisions made by its residents and its elected officials as well as events in the wider world. I was taught this humbling lesson through my trolling of the fascinating and confounding borough of the Bronx and meeting the crazy, resilient and normal people who live there. I mean I could have spent the next few months pointing out the little quirks and oddities I found around me but without historical context, they mean nothing at all. The little yellow house I took a picture of? The chickens? The masses of community gardens? Nothing.
Why are there so many community gardens in a city where land values are so high? Why is there so little original, 19th Century housing in the Bronx whereas Brooklyn still has vast swathes of the original housing stock? Why is the Bronx so poor here, mere miles from Wall St and Midtown?
To answer these questions I first trolled through the unreliable minefield that is Wikipedia and feasted upon the myths and legends there. I discovered that the Bronx was once a much different place than it is now.
Before the map thing, I’d only been to the Bronx twice. Once to buy a record player and another time to go to the zoo. I had heard something of its reputation as a rough place and no place at all to live or to visit after dark. I had heard the words ‘South Bronx’ uttered as a sneer, an oath, a warning but had no clear idea of what actually they meant. I then read some real books that were actually published, written by people who either lived in the Bronx or studied in a college of some repute and what I learned blew my mind. I’ve been terrorising friends and strangers alike with tales of the Bronx and now I set down in pixels this incredible story of birth, destruction and rebirth.
Now I grew up in North Liverpool during the 1980’s so I have some experience with declining populations, high unemployment, half abandoned housing estates stalked by drug addicts and bored youths looking for a fight and whilst it wasn’t exactly ‘white flight’ that happened to Liverpool, there was ‘middle class flight’ - they fled the inner city (and probably Liverpool entirely) as unruly elements and lethargy threatened to overwhelm the weakening social order, the increasingly ineffective and under funded police force and all presided over by a government that was seen by many of the residents who were left behind to have, if not actually precipitated and encouraged the decline in Liverpool’s fortunes, then had at least done nothing to try to halt it. North Liverpool hardly seemed like a viable community at all, or at least the part of it that I lived in didn’t. 25% unemployment, vandalism everywhere and only two people on our street owned a car. We played a game called man-hunt in the beautiful old abandoned grammar school across the road until a smack head burnt it down trying to cover his tracks. Our little gang would set fire to anything we could get away with; there was so much fuel about- they filled the inner walls on the Radcliff estate with straw, by Christ! We weren’t even the bad kids.I remember as a time of piss, puddles and fires.
What happened to Liverpool during the 70’s and 80 and 90’s mirrored what was happening in many Western urban centers but the decay and destruction in the Bronx was so rapid, systematic and total that it threatened to engulf the Bronx completely. The devastation was so total that some local politicians and industry leaders thought that it would be better to withdraw the remaining residents and, ‘blacktop the whole area and make it an industrial park.’ You have to watch the otherwise feeble film Wolfen to see some great footage of how it was. Visitors to the Bronx likened it to post war German towns and this in a place that was mainly farmland less than a century before. Like every good urban tale, it begins in the 1840s and it is, of course, a history of real estate and it is very difficult to tell this tale without telling you a history of Bronx real estate patterns. I’ll begin next time. For now I leave you with the progress I've made on the Bronx so far. This is the South Bronx and I've nearly finished it except for a bit over to the left and I've been over there 3 times and there just are no maps there. Poo.
Monday, November 8, 2010
There are so many nice things in the world and I own so few of them- like this Porsche, for example. And a beautiful two storey house nestled on the leafy banks of the Hudson River, steps away from the Spuyten Duyvil Metro-North, a short ride, maybe in a nice Porsche from a ‘shopping-street-with-a-small-town-feel’ where one can enjoy tolerable pizza and beer with one’s local friends and buy pastries and mail a letter. One’s fine, fine children will be privately educated in one of the Great Private Schools scattered about hillsides and one’s wife will play bridge and attend functions. Or whatever good Upper Middle Class Jewish Families do when they live in gorgeous neighborhoods. I would like to have seen it decades ago before they built the huge blocks of flats. Is a nice neighborhood still nice even after you’ve built the behemoth in front of the sun and the river and covered half the hills with parking. In all fairness, the bit I really liked covered only about a block of prettiness down the hill towards the station, up the hill is 30 blocks of pettiness. Nowhere outside of the heavy artillery firing range at Fort Carson, Colorado have I seen so many signs warning trespassers to stay out, no soliciting, no photographs, parking for residents only and if it happens that you are lucky enough to be invited to visit a guest in their apartment, detailed instructions on how to approach the residence, and that’s only in Spuyten Duyvil, the less tony of the upper Bronx neighbourhoods, fuck Fieldston.
If you felt like trespassing all over Fieldston, braving their private police security, soliciting, taking pictures and parking your car where you’re not supposed to, you will see that the nice house in a leafy glade without the sun blocking behemoth can exist in New York City because that’s what happens when you live in a private community, pay dues to the Fieldston Property Owners' Association who take over responsibilities of the city and no doubt have a covenant prohibiting you to do anything within Fieldston other than drive your nice black Porsche in and out of your driveway to go to work.
This is not the case with The Riverdales, known as South Riverdale, Riverdale and North Riverdale where the cottages and other single family homes are interspersed with big apartment buildings blahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, what am I, a fucking realtor? I’m not going back up there because there’s nothing to do, of course there’s a park but there’s a park down the road from ours. Damn it, I have to go back because I didn’t find enough maps. I can’t talk about this place because I was only there for a couple of hours. I liked the Irish workmen walking their tiny dogs; I always wondered where those fellas lived. I liked the homeless shelter on the seedy end of the neighborhood and the loonies standing outside it. It always gets seedy near the border. I liked the border and I stepped over it to experience the wonders of Yonkers briefly. I liked the Bx 7 bus that took me swiftly from Riverdale to Manhattan and although it wasn’t quite as nice as the black Porsche of my other life, at least I could finish my book.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Hunts Point is another poor ass neighborhood in South Bronx, this one notable for the fearful level of poverty, the lively commercial activity in the huge industrial park there and the massive, massive food markets there. I have been to other parts of New York that have maybe been as poor but the people are a jolly people, more like an ‘Oliver Twist- The Musical’ kind of poverty not the sullen, makeshift poverty of Hunts Point which manifests itself in a dearth of joy or activity- only orange food and the numbers.
I did find a Mister Softee ice cream truck distribution center and a dozen ice cream trucks waiting to be filled up with delicious goodness. It seems you can pick your own route and many of the guys do nothing more than circle the streets surrounding this Mister Softee ice cream truck distribution center plying their wares. Ha, that’s what I would do! There are so many of them, its almost a procession.
Further in, there is an old building called the Banknote Building, an old banknote building renovated for small businesses but as yet virtually empty. In spite of its emptiness, or maybe because of it, you can wander freely throughout the whole building. It’s a great place for a game of hide and seek and I got some beautiful shots of the Bruckner Expressway and beyond.
For the markets is the only reason anybody would need to go to Hunts Point, and that’s why I went there. "The World's Largest Food Distribution Center" according to the website and I tried and tried and tried to find someone with a map of the bugger. I walked and walked and talked to everybody and I came close once when a long series of ‘ask this fella’ culminated in the office of the manager of the mechanics and maintenance department, or such and the fella rifled through his filing cabinet for several minutes before admitting defeat. Damn. Thank Christ for the NYC Planning Office. If it weren’t for them boys my map of the Bronx would look like shite.
There is fantastic pizza at Fratelli’s, right there in Hunt’s Point and Joe, the owner said he would help me with a map but they never do, they never do.
Not everyone was as helpful as manager and Joe, the security guard to the fish market nearly had an aneurysm when I skirted around his checkpoint to take a picture of the prison barge near there and blew a gasket completely when I asked if he happened to have a map of the locality. He shielded his face from me and told me that he wouldn’t answer any questions at all. I must have looked a bit Talibanny that day.
I ended my tour with a visit to the new park which finally gives Southern Bronxiterish access to the water that surrounds them. Even in Autumn there was plenty going on with the fishing, taking pictures of a dancer, boozing and dog walking. When the swimming pool barge is in full swing, I bet the place is a blast. I enjoyed Hunts Point immensely and would totally gentrify the shit out that place.
Monday, September 13, 2010
I get the feeling that Mott Haven used to be a nice place to live. Walking to Bruckner Blvd from the 138th St station you pass several nice buildings, standing like good teeth in a rotten mouth and even a whole block or so given landmark status. What happened, Bronx? What made you so filthy and bedraggled? While searching for the answer I discovered several websites very similar to my own that cover this history and where you may also find about the nicer buildings and who the streets are named after and other remarkable things, the best of which is probably this;- http://www.forgotten-ny.com/. So in the interest of keeping the internet as free from useless repetition as possible and lessening my research burden I will relay only first impressions; ignorant, shallow and uneducated as they may be.
I don't know The Bronx at all so I don't know where to walk to find maps. I've ended up walking pointlessly up the whole length of a road with nothing on it but mapless projects so to eliminate these dreary journeys I found I had to do a bit of research after all. Poor neighbourhoods generally map themselves with Chinese restaurant menu maps so, using Google, I plot a circuitous course around a given neighbourhood visiting every Chinese restaurant and seeing what there is to see in between, so...
Mott Haven is a poor, poor neighbourhood in the southern-most part of The Bronx. The area seems to be mainly Puerto Rican and a little bit black. Just over the 3rd Avenue Bridge is a few blocks of big factories developers and artists are and have been turning into lofts, the vanguard of gentrification. I picked up leaflets about the big plans afoot to redevelop South Bronx but I cut up the only English language one. 'El South Bronx esta volviendo a tener barrios activos y seguros y una economia creciente,' which is good news.
I met only one other white guy (outside the Bruckner/3rd Ave Green Zone) and he seemed disappointed to see me. He was collecting his dry cleaning which seemed important to note at the time although I don't know why now. In amongst the obvious idleness, poverty and neglect there are wee flowers of real community activism, inventive and imaginative ways to improve the neighbourhood and pass the time. Because of the reduced pressure for space, lower expectations for the people who live here and the fact that things have improved dramatically (the crime rate has gone down 80% in 15 years), the people here have far more licence to do things that would be unacceptable in other parts of the city; booze on the street, massive community gardens, build a rickety old ranch house on an empty lot and keep chickens. It's great while it lasts.
Mott Haven is still a sad little place to live- a cop on every third corner, unbeautiful housing, no bars, bad food and no access to the waterfront but all that will slowly change. I hope the chickens can stay
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Sunday, August 22, 2010
I'm very drunk. I walked down a very long road in Brooklyn called Flatbush Avenue. I started on Cortelyou Rd and ended up in The Rockaways. I saw a great many things- Haitian ghetto, the Target store, Jewish suburbia, pastel polo shirts segueing into 9-11 T-shirts, a golf course, grassy wetlands to the beach, a long bridge over to Rockaway and turned right to a private community called Roxbury. I saw a party from the bridge and thirsty from my travels I went there. The hospitality, grudging and suspicious at first improved after laying low for a while amongst the middle aged, middle class republican firefighters, I told one man (Henry) about my 8 mile odyssey to their party. Not that I've anything against these people, I just get nervous surrounded by 200 of them. I believe only my accent saved me from being kicked off their private beach.
Nevertheless I made many new friends at this party who I will never see again. When I told a trio of drunk older residents I was looking for maps they only half jokingly made me promise that I wasn't a terrorist bent on destroying their community. Ha ha. I promised. Many of them are the descendants of the people who originally founded the town a hundred years ago. You can't just move in to this place, you have to be invited. Nice.
The occasion was the 100 year anniversary of the Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department and a band played music, free Budweiser. I think it is beautiful that there is room in New York City for a community of right wing, middle aged reactionaries. It was like being in Colorado Springs again- all those 9-11 T-shirts covering beer bellies, orange skin and baggy arms. Just beautiful.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
It was still a bone dry piece of Cuban sandwich I received but at $4 including seat, who's complaining?
A lively place in the daytime, I have it on good authority that it rocks at night. Indeed it has a reputation for being the most violent and crime ridden part of Manhattan but reports may be exaggerated. It's a long old fucker of a road starting at 110th St and ending at 193rd St. I never did get to the end of it.
...and unlike in much of the rest of Manhattan where you have the smell of someone else's lunch blown through a vent at you while walking down the street, Washington Heights's wide and airy streets blow no fumes from the trough at you. I found it to be one of the more livable parts of Manhattan.
Except I did stumble into another dimension trying to find my way home- a wee mixed white/ mixed enclave carved out of Washington Heights at 181st St which calls itself Hudson Heights. It even had a wine store that sold only wine- no liquor! Also a sushi place that wasn't part of a Chinese restaurant- a true gauge of fanciness. People looked at me funny here as I trolled for maps where they mostly ignored me in Washington Heights proper. I saw a great map in a locked building, I wanted to break the window but that would have been silly, wouldn't it?
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Lenox Avenue is the first of the Avenues that begin and end in Harlem. It has been renamed Malcolm X but the locals continue to call it by its old name. It runs from 11oth St to 147th St and unlike the avenues to the east which contain a large majority of Latinos, Lenox Ave is predominantly Black with a large and active contingent Muslim and African. The architecture is mainly tenement style buildings interspersed with a good many new and ugly apartments. Maybe Victorians thought Victorian buildings were ugly. It's hard to judge a street on a hot holiday weekend but Lenox Ave was still lively, almost bustling and fun.
Businesses, such as they are can be divided into 3 categories- stores selling baseball caps and African dresses, bodegas and supermarkets and beauty parlours/ barbershops with the latter category far outnumbering the former two combined. If all the beauty parlours/ barbershops were disappeared I think the resulting real estate vacuum would summon the feared double dip recession. The presence of so many beauty parlours appears to be quite beneficial to the community as the women there are consistently beautiful and well maintained.
Ogling aside, there's not much there except the fine Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. I was going to write about how the main exhibition there seemed to gloss over the last 400 years of Black American history before I learned that the exhibition was a retrospective highlighting 25 years of exhibitions. So that's why. The smaller exhibition in the basement was better. It dealt with inequalities in the NYC school system. Almost 100% of white 9th graders graduate within 4 years whilst less than 50% of black and hispanic students graduate within 4 years. I was going to write about how as a sunburnt Irishman looking for maps I notice that it's the blacks and latinos who check my ID to get into the place and the whites who work upstairs and tha
t for whatever reason, the system is failing, creating or maintaining a caste of gatekeepers and tradesmen but at the last minute, due to my ignorance I decided not to.
Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd, known affectionately to the locals as 7th Ave is- I swear to God the mosquito I'm trying to kill has a fucking teleporter- is more of the same as Lenox I was admittedly tired and hot by that stage and should really go back. There are more bars on ACP Jr Blvd than there are on Lenox. I should have availed myself of one but I couldn't find a Chase ATM. The bugger got me. The phone ate my photos again so I've nothing to show you. Here is a nice picture of a dog instead.
Friday, July 2, 2010
As part of my plan to the cover upper sides and Harlem in a methodical manner I did the above mentioned thing. Park Avenue one day, Madison Ave. the next and 5th Avenue the next all starting from 86th St. Park Avenue is a world of elegant, expensive and elderly apartment buildings manned by sterling, uniformed doormen who help elegant, expensive elderly residents in and out of taxis. All well and good but no maps and except for a few interesting churches and synagogues- the armory no reason to go there.
Until at 96th St when the train tracks from the Metro North emerge from under the street, the homes of the rich abruptly end. Instead of six lane divided road with flowers and greenery in the verge, the road becomes two narrow streets divided by a set of train tracks, stone bridges. The massive apartment buildings are replaced by funky Harlem brownstones, restaurants and public housing. There lies something called La Marqueta- a large market built under the Metro North yet only two vendors selling Botanica and Puerto Rico belt buckles.
Past the 125th St mess- redeemed only by the beautifully restored Metro North station- lie four blocks of gorgeous brownstones and churches before Park Avenue peters out in a swift burst of public housing, sanitation dept. parking and a pedestrian walkway.
Madison Avenue, Park Avenue's sister avenue to the west is a terrible, mean spirited thoroughfare and even beyond the 96th St class boundary continues to be so. Whilst both Park and Madison are stomping grounds of the super rich, Park Ave has a sense of humour, a mild humbleness that Madison absolutely lacks especially apparent to a random, sunburnt Irishman looking for maps. It has the feel of a snooty little seaside town. They could build an airport in Manhattan with the landing strip lying along the whole length of Madison Avenue and New York City would not lose a thing, the world equilibrium would not be damaged at all.
The only bright spot along the whole benighted road is the Mt. Sinai hospital, a formidable, fortress-like tower visible from miles around and even more brutal up close. The people there were very friendly and I recommend it highly if you're in the neighbourhood. Madison Avenue ends with the Madison Avenue bridge spanning the Harlem river like some glittering promise of a faraway better land.
Walking along 5th Avenue I come to understand Madison Ave's problem. Even though it is a massively attractive and wealthy street its opulence pales in comparison to the streets either side of it. It has a complex, the poor thing. 5th Ave with Central Park on one side and fantastic mansions and museums on the other is New York's finest street. The splendor doesn't end at 96th St either but continues, to a fashion all the way to 110th where Central Park ends. You don't come to a Kennedy Fried Chicken until 113th St!
5th Ave is interrupted by the great, dysfunctional Marcus Garvey Park and all around that place, all the way up almost to the end of 5th Ave are the finest brownstones in Harlem.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Friday, June 25, 2010
My phone decided to delete all my photos so I've no pictures of my recent trolling, it hasn't been very interesting anyway. Starting from 86th St I've been methodically walking up and down the avenues trying to find maps of the Upper East Side and Harlem- dreadful awfulness but worth it since every voyage nets about three new maps. That's not to say that the Upper East Side and Harlem are awful, just that I've been there a lot recently and I'm tired of the place. I want to explore! but I'm determined to finish Manhattan by September by jingo. Anyway here is a terrible picture of a badly aligned Manhattan and Brooklyn to look at. I'm glad I did it because it's clear to me that DUMBO is way too big and will destroy lower Manhattan if I leave it in. Cheers.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
After trolling Red Hook, Green Point and the Navy Yard, Brooklyn is beginning to take shape. I'm still just skimming the surface of the choice neighborhoods. I can't wait for Brownsville, Brighton Beach and wherever the hell Bath Beach is.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Back to Manhattan, kind of. Roosevelt Island is a wee island in the East River with the feel of a curious village populated by cripples and health freaks both. It has one bar and a diner. I had fish in chips at both places, an endeavor filled with doom. I went everywhere there was to go and all there is is Soviet style architecture and strips of jaunty parkland and of course, fish and chips.
I tire of trolling Manhattan so venture to the dreary edges of Brooklyn. Red Hook via Smith St and the fine, fine antique shops on Atlantic Avenue. My heart broken by the many fine things inside.
Red Hook is a windy place as yet not fully explored. There is a great bar there though. Sonnies, magnificent.
Morningside Heights has nothing in it but an old school and a couple of churches. Ha ha. Columbia University, Riverside Church and the massive Cathedral of St John the Divine, the 4th or 5th biggest church in the world depending on whether or not you believe Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral is bigger. Scousers build bigger churches than Yanks do, it's a fact. It has the biggest rose window in the world, you can't tell but the panel in the middle of the circle is 5' 7".
Sunday, April 25, 2010
After extensive trolling this weekend, I have continuity from 60th St to the top of Inwood. Very happy, this is going to be the final shape of the thing but I have a whole summer of trolling ahead of me to fill in all the tidy gaps. Thanks to the nice lady at the Morris-Jumel Mansion and a gorgeous map called 'Landmarks of Harlem.'
Barton Vodka should be avoided at all costs, even at $2.25 for a half pint. It gives you a hangover before you've sobered up.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
I went back today and this is my new progress, for those of you interested in the process. I also got a big beautiful map from Audubon that I fear will get obliterated entirely. I like Inwood and Washington Heights so much I wanted to keep them precious and perfect but the map does whatever it wants and its turning into mayhem like the rest of it.
The best tacos I ever had off a cart on Sherman and Dyckman.
The A still runs very badly even up there.
Monday, April 19, 2010
I got tired of trolling either side of Central Park fruitlessly searching for dreary maps of fancy pet shops, shops selling baby clothes and Italian restaurants and seek the greener pastures of Inwood. A beautiful part of Manhattan juxtaposing massive tenements set amidst tranquil greenery on one side of Broadway and teeming commercial activity on the other side. I only got a sniff of its arse yesterday as you can see from the map but I'm going back tomorrow to get a better look.
I took a picture of this darling little Irish bar I came across and the festive Irish poster there in the window. I didn't go in, I was too afraid. Maybe next time.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Friday, April 2, 2010
For weeks I've been trying to find anything of the Upper West Side to no avail and then in the midst of a day-time drinking haze I find this crazy book of maps- published by Globe-Trotter, written in Japanese for visitors to NYC. From river to river almost to 125th st. Good stuff. Is it cheating because it's such a big map. Hopefully not, I use the big map as a template and typically it is covered up with the little maps. Given the dearth of culture, shopping, restaurants etc around the tree-lined retirement avenues here, it might be all there is.
Also I severed upper Manhattan from the lower while I work on it because the file was so huge it kept crashing my computy.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
This week the maps have been falling out of the sky, every where I looked there's a map. Trolling China town and Downtown Brooklyn. A special thanks to Rupert from Manhattan Mini Storage who went round the back and got me all the maps of all the stores in Manhattan, even stores who said they didn't have maps. You do, Rupert's got them.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
but I glued all the maps down as I found them but as I found better or larger maps I found I couldn't edit them so I had to keep them in a folder until I had all of Manhattan covered. One day I will go through through downtown and china town and collect them all again. Given the nature of the maps, it is unlikely that I will find the same maps again. This picture is as far as I got before I quit.
A few months ago I started a project mapping New York City using found maps- menu maps, tourist maps, 'we are here' maps and the like. This blog will document the map's progress as well as the wanderings I take to collect the maps.