There are more than 8,000 miles of streets, trails and bridges in New York City, and one local resident has set out to walk every single block.
Matt Green started his journey through New York in 2011 and chronicled his experience in the documentary “The World Before Your Feet,” directed by Jeremy Workman. The film premieres Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center and runs through Feb. 7.
Morning Shift talks to Green about his walking project and what he learned along the way.
On starting the walking project
Matt Green: I made this deal with myself that I would give myself a year to find a new job or new career direction and if I didn’t, I had to quit my job and do a walk across America, which is something I had started thinking about. Then I told everybody I knew this plan so that I couldn’t chicken out when the year came and went. And the year came and went and I had done absolutely nothing to find a new job. Because as you know, it’s easy to just keep coming into work. And so I quit my job and I did that walk across America in 2010 from New York to Oregon.
Susie An: Rockaway to Rockaway.
Green: Rockaway Beach to Rockaway Beach, yep. There was about a year and a half between when I finished that walk and I started this one in New York.
An: Did you have any expectations going into it? You did that walk across America, so it seems like this might be a smaller scale.
Green: In a way it is, but it’s also about three times the mileage. I’m still walking it and I’m over 9,000 miles now.
On navigating different parts of the city
An: Parts of New York City, like Queens for example, are incredibly diverse. What was it like walking through one neighborhood after the other?
Green: The city is so diverse in so many ways. We all think of how New York is so diverse in terms of the people and cultures there. But I think less known is how big of a city it is land-wise and how many different environments and landscapes and ecosystems it encompasses. Some days I’m in more heavily populated areas and I’m going from one cultural hub to another. And other days I’m out in like Jamaica Bay and I’m in a salt marsh or I’m in these really tall hills on Staten Island. So the diversity goes beyond just the people. You know people always say you can see the world in New York, meaning you can see all those cultures. You can see what so many parts of the world look like in New York City.
On how locals responded to Green’s walking project
Green:As much as we see New York in the media, we’re seeing very very very small sections of it over and over and over. So there were lots of times where someone was kind of excite that someone was there filming something. The idea that someone cared about their neighborhood and maybe would want to talk to them. At the same time, there were other people who saw the camera and crossed the street so they wouldn’t be in the shot because who knows what this film’s going to be used for.
On recognizing his white male privilege
Green: At the beginning of my walk, I thought, okay what counts in this walk. What am I walking? What is a public area? Not everywhere is clearly defined as public or private. So if it’s just somewhere you can walk and people don’t throw you out, then that counts. And I realized over the years that there are places that are easy for me to walk that might not be for other people because people look at them suspiciously whereas they see me and they’re like oh he’s probably just checking the gas lines over there or something. I kind of wear this schlubby clothing, I just look like I’m doing some work or something. On the other side, there’s also… what if I was a female doing this? And then that’s less of like “is someone suspicious of me” but people who are treating me in a very friendly way might be acting differently toward a woman… so it’s definitely been eye-opening to kind of realize in that more first-hand way how different it is for different people to experience the city and the world.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to hear the entire conversation.
GUEST: Matt Green, subject of the documentary “The World Before Your Feet”
LEARN MORE: Inside one man’s bizarre, brilliant journey to walk every NYC block (New York Post 11/23/18)