My name is Matt Green. About a decade ago I quit my civil engineering job and spent 5 months walking 3,100 miles across the United States, from Rockaway Beach, NYC, to Rockaway Beach, Oregon. After returning to the East Coast, I drifted around and worked odd jobs for a while before deciding to take on another walking project, this time focused on one place: walking every block of every street in the 5 boroughs of NYC, plus parks, cemeteries, beaches, bridges, and other outdoor public(ish) spaces.

I don't have a particular goal or focus when I'm walking. I just try to pay attention to whatever's around me. It's amazing how much there is to see everywhere, whether you're in the middle of North Dakota, Staten Island, or Times Square. It just takes a long time to open your eyes to it all. I'm still working on opening mine. I meet a lot of people, take a lot of photos, and do a lot of research afterward to figure out the stories behind the things I encountered. I document the small wonders (and non-wonders) that I see and learn about on my website, imjustwalkin.com.

Recently I was the subject of the documentary The World Before Your Feet, which you can watch here.

Proof: https://imgur.com/a/PZdWKzN

EDIT (4:26pm ET): Thanks everyone for all the great questions and generous offers. I need to wind this down, but I’ll try to take a last look over your questions tonight/tomorrow and answer a few more then. If you want to know more, check out the documentary and my snoozefest of a blog -- or, better yet, go for a walk yourself!

EDIT (1:12am ET, 3/16): All right, I'm throwing in the towel for good. Thanks again for the awesome variety of questions. There were many more I'd like to have gotten to if I had unlimited time. You guys rule -- this was way more fun than I expected!

Comments: 2592 • Responses: 39  • Date: 

groceryliszt3805 karma

That's a lot of years - do you have a job? How do you afford to live/pay rent?

left-right-repeat6491 karma

No job -- I do this full time. I afford rent by not paying rent! I'm constantly couchsurfing and catsitting at other people's apartments. I have about 40 different cats I've watched at this point and I think I've stayed at almost 100 different apartments.

Ghawblin2558 karma

Follow up question to this, how?

Is there some sort of app where you can just offer to petsit in return for room&board?

left-right-repeat4247 karma

I've heard those sites do exist, but I'm just operating in a network of friends and friends of friends and friends of friends of friends.

Paradigm240277 karma

You manage to survive without a stable income in NYC by catsitting? How? Have you ever not had a place to stay for a night? Who do you couchsurf at?

shortfriday249 karma

The guy obviously has savings

left-right-repeat448 karma

Yes, savings from my engineering days. Also I get some blog donations and make a little money doing talks now and then.

FranniPants106 karma

No job

This makes me feel anxious! Do you have an existing 401(k)? How will you afford to retire? I assume one day you'll settle down and not be an 80 year old guy walking everywhere - what is your plan going to be once you stop walking?

left-right-repeat447 karma

I do have a 401(k) from my job. It's a decent amount but not that much. I'm really not sure what my plan is. I'm learning to live with that uncertainty and the idea that material comforts, sometimes even pretty basic ones, may not be as necessary as we think. Plus the world might be on fire in 40 years anyway.

freundwich196 karma

How do you eat?

left-right-repeat542 karma

Wit my face.

jarrettbrown1924 karma

Hey Matt, I love this idea. Are you aware of William B. Helmreich, a Sociology Professor at CCNY who's done the same thing as you? I think you two should meet up at some point. Oh and what's been your favorite street that you've walked down so far?

left-right-repeat2920 karma

Yeah! We've actually walked together some, and he's featured in the documentary.

Favorite street? The next one I walk!

Portarossa1626 karma

If someone asked you to sum up New York City in three blocks, which three would they be? What's the microcosm of the New York experience?

left-right-repeat1914 karma

That's a really tough question. I'll take a shot and then explain why I can't really answer it.

I guess if I had only three blocks, I'd want to showcase the astounding diversity of the city. Maybe I'd pick a money-laden block of Tribeca, a block under the 7 train in Jackson Heights, and a rundown block in the Rockaways on the shore of the massive ecosystem of Jamaica Bay.

That was really painful to write and all I can think about is how many places I left out. And that's why I could never answer that question satisfactorily. I find that the more I dig into this city, the more I realize I don't know. I'm overwhelmed by the immensity of it all. It becomes impossible to sum anything up or simplify it. I'm far less willing to make a broad statement about NYC now than I was when I started. To me, the city is now an endless collection of unique places and points in time, and all I can do is surrender to its unknowability.

Here's something I tried to write about this once.

promet111107 karma

What kind of shoes do you wear and how long do they last?

left-right-repeat1787 karma

Hiking boots! I can get around 1,000 miles per pair, and then I can get the heel replaced and tack on a few hundred more. Whatever you find comfortable, just buy the same type of shoes over and over so you build up calluses in the right places and never get blisters again.

CriticalCreativity710 karma

1.) Your favorite neighborhood in NYC or 2.) Where did you feel most unsafe

left-right-repeat1413 karma

I've honestly never felt unsafe doing this walk. But I had already lived in NYC a while when I started and had spent lots of time exploring different neighborhoods, so I had learned that stereotypes about dangerous places are generally rooted in very little other than fear. Of course, as both white and male, it's often less risky for me to be in different areas than it might be for someone else.

jaredpls585 karma

How many times have you said, "Ey, I'm walkin here!"?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c412hqucHKw

left-right-repeat733 karma

I'm constantly waiting for a cab to cut me off in a crosswalk so I can yell that. It hasn't happened yet in 7+ years!

Ghawblin539 karma

Thanks for doing this!

I live rural, and absolutely love walking around dense urban areas and finding hole-in-the-wall shops and restaurants.

I gotta ask.

During your travels, what was:

  • Your favorite restaurant you found?

  • Your favorite store you found?

  • The weirdest place you found?

left-right-repeat943 karma

I rarely eat in restaurants because I don't have the budget. But I have found some awesome Sri Lankan food in Staten Island.

I also don't go in many stores, but I do love the ridiculous bodega incense. https://imjustwalkin.com/2014/02/16/more-bodega-incense/

Weirdest place? Too many to process, but here's one. I was in this basically undeveloped, forested park in Staten Island. There was very little litter on the ground, meaning very few people use the park. I can't remember the name off the top of my head, but it was this place where curb had been laid out for streets many years ago, but I don't think anything was ever built there. But I was trying to walk all the phantom streets where I could find traces of them. It was difficult to keep track and I was starting to wonder if I was spending too much time wandering around this park when I had many more miles to cover, and then I stumbled upon this insane wooden sculpture garden. Someone had collected hundreds and hundreds of large branches and assembled them into this swirling pathway that led to a little homemade hut. It was astounding to see and I wondered how many people had ever laid eyes on this masterpiece.

a_pirate_life160 karma

Do you have a picture of this place? Sounds pretty special.

SIExplorer332 karma

Since it’s a beautiful day on Staten Island, I decided to go exploring and I found it! https://imgur.com/a/z6nm1NG/

It is, indeed, Long Pond Park!

left-right-repeat24 karma

Holy shit -- well done!

brad-n20 karma

It looks like the deer is wearing earmuffs.

left-right-repeat29 karma

The deer population is out of control on Staten Island, so they're trying to trap and sterilize all the male deer. The ear tags mean that sucker done been snipped.

woodside3501299 karma

In a city famous for being in a hurry and people minding their own business, have you seen any random acts of kindness that stand out?

left-right-repeat557 karma

Totally. People are in a hurry but also love the feeling of helping. It's amazing how quick people are to respond to someone dropping something on the sidewalk or falling down. I've had random people ask me for help while I'm walking and it always feels great. I helped an old lady in Staten Island carry her groceries into her house. I helped a guy with back spasms and a walker up the stairs to his walk-up apartment in Kew Gardens. I turned on the A/C for a Hasidic family in Borough Park on a surprisingly warm Yom Kippur.

igabeup219 karma

what is your favorite block? or top 3?

left-right-repeat297 karma

Favorite block? The next one I walk!

alanstanwyk203 karma

Are you walkin' right now?

left-right-repeat778 karma

Hey I'm typin' here!

faelek132 karma

Also, what was the weirdest / creepiest / scary / risky situation you've stumbled on while you walked?

If you were to describe your experience with one song, what would it be?

Finally, have you ever been to Europe? Or if not, how would you compare walking in NY with..well different places.

left-right-repeat428 karma

I've never felt personally at danger in the moment. But there was one time when I was in the South Bronx and a police officer saw me walking around and asked me what was in my back pocket. Unthinkingly I pulled out the water bottle I was carrying, only realizing halfway through that he thought I was carrying a gun. He was completely startled that I did that and recoiled in surprise. If I weren't a white dude and he had perceived me as a threat from the beginning, that situation could have ended very differently.

The shocking thing I realized doing my cross-country walk and then this NYC walk is that when you're walking merely for the sake of paying attention and appreciating what's around you, it doesn't matter where you're walking. Walking across North Dakota feels the same to me as walking in NYC. It doesn't matter what I'm looking at; it's the act of paying full attention that makes the experiences almost identical.

One song? That "I would walk 500 miles" song, looped 18 times.

Katzen_Kradle127 karma

How would you best summarize Staten Island?

left-right-repeat307 karma

Most people would be shocked by the diversity of Staten Island. Not just ethnically (mostly on the North Shore), but also in terms of landscapes and wildlife. It's got the highest point on the Eastern Seaboard south of Maine. I've seen seals there. Bald eagles. Wild turkeys. Hop on that ferry and go!

Bashamo257119 karma

What?! 9000! There's no way that can be right!

left-right-repeat110 karma

Here's my progress map. Feel free to add it up yourself!

Kieya22 karma

It's hard to tell on that map, so how much of NYC do you have left?

left-right-repeat46 karma

Maybe a few hundred miles left. Not sure exactly. The gaps range from Far Rockaway to the Upper West Side.

TheReelStig116 karma

What do you think of NYC's walkability and transportation policies now that you've seen so much of it in person?

left-right-repeat335 karma

I feel like basically everywhere's walkable if you want to walk it. The "harder" it is to walk, the more fun it is in many ways. But that's a somewhat glib answer coming from someone who's young and able-bodied. One time I had to get an electric wheelchair from the Rockaways to the Upper West Side for a friend I was staying with, and it was amazing how a totally new world opened up to me. I had scour the street for sidewalk ramps that weren't broken and that didn't empty into big puddles. I had to take a ridiculous subway route because there are so few elevators and a decent number of the ones that are there are out of service at any given time. Sometimes the lip of the train entrance was too high above the platform and I had to get out of the wheelchair and lift the monstrous thing with all my might to get the wheels over the lip. So I realized how easy it is to take all that for granted when you're in good health and just out having fun.

TheWoLFsTerr113 karma

Are your calfs made of steel now or did you decide to artificially enhance yourself?

left-right-repeat199 karma

They were steel but I got an automatic upgrade to titanium after 5 years.

Bedanktvooralles95 karma

How many hours and approximately how much ground do you cover in a day? This sounds like and extremely interesting life change. Thank you for sharing this with us. 🖖🏽😎

left-right-repeat120 karma

I'd estimate I cover 8 to 20 miles per walk, walking for somewhere between 6 and 12 hours. However, most of my time these days is spent researching and writing about photos I took on my walks which I post to my (woefully out of date) blog.

gramscontestaccount282 karma

Favorite food you've found while walking the city?

left-right-repeat175 karma

My budget is too low for most restaurants but I'll often stop for doubles) when I'm in an area with roti shops. They're usually $1.25 apiece (up from $1 when I started the walk) and are crazy delicious and good for a vegetarian.

TrevBot3379 karma

Do you ever plan to return to a 'formal' workspace? After (presumably) years of schooling and work, do you miss using the engineering skills you spent so long developing?

left-right-repeat56 karma

I don't plan on it, but I don't have much of a plan to speak of, so who knows. I do feel like I'm still using the heart of my engineering skills -- observation, attention to detail, critical thinking, problem-solving. Walking is such an amorphous thing that I think you can bring all of your own characteristics and abilities to bear on it and do it in your own unique way.

BattleCried62 karma

How many water bottles a day do you consume to stay hydrated??

left-right-repeat66 karma

Depends a lot on the season. I can drink almost nothing on some wintertime walks, but summer is a whole other world. I generally opt on the side of moderate dehydration to avoid constantly having to take a whiz, and then I just drink a ton when I get home at the end of the day. I always carry a water bottle and refill it at water fountains, public bathrooms, bodegas, open fire hydrants, etc.

cramtown49 karma

What’s the weirdest thing that you’ve stepped on or over?

left-right-repeat70 karma

I so want to have a good answer for this, but it's eluding me. I carefully stepped over two grisly raccoon carcasses one day in Green-Wood Cemetery. Why didn't I go around? Because they were right on my intended route and I'm really anal-retentive.

YtrapEhtNioj45 karma

Would you do it again? If so would you notice the inevitable changes that occur block to block? Like "hey, that used to be a sushi joint" or "wow that apartment building got a facelift"

left-right-repeat77 karma

I'd love to keep doing this the rest of my life if I could find a way to finance it. I would probably notice some specific places changing, places I focused my attention on for whatever reason (like certain barbershopz), but I think I'm mostly too overwhelmed by the 100,000+ blocks to catalog all the details. I've also realized that a particular block can change a ton from visit to visit even if the same people and businesses are there both times. The weather, the time of day, my own mood, what's going on in my life at the moment -- all these things affect my experience and my perception of being somewhere as much as the place itself does. So in that way, every block is new to me no matter how many times I've walked it.

buso43 karma

I'm jealous! I wish I could do this!

Questions:

  1. Are you tracking your walks with any sort of GPS device? If so, it would be awesome to see this data on a map.
  2. Have you witnessed a crime in progress during your walks? If so, what happened.

Thanks

left-right-repeat147 karma

You should go for a walk today!

  1. I do use GPS on my phone, but it's actually not accurate enough for my purposes. I plan my route out in advance, written in notebooks where I make notes on any derivations. Daily maps of my walks are available on my progress map.

  2. A couple hit-and-runs on parked cars. I tracked both down to get their info, so I'm basically Batman.

ClumsyPlatypus38 karma

How much did you save to enable you to always be able to eat? I get that you couch surf but that doesnt really explain how this is possible.

left-right-repeat52 karma

I saved a good amount, like tens of thousands. I also bring in a little money through donations to my blog and doing talks and stuff like that. Sometimes that's enough to sustain me entirely in a given month, and other times I have to dip into my savings. Health insurance is actually my biggest expense. Food can cost so little if you go to the grocery store and eat a simple vegetarian diet. Rice and beans! Carrots! Bananas!

randalldesjarlais28 karma

What is your consensus on the way people are? Is there alot of rude people out there or have you found that there is alot of kind people in the world?

left-right-repeat116 karma

This deserves a much longer answer, but the bottom line for me, and what I've heard from essentially everyone else who's traveled extensively outside their comfort zone, is that people are much, much kinder than we give them credit for. On my cross-country walk, there were so many people whose political views couldn't have differed more from my own, but whose kindness in feeding a random stranger and letting him stay with them (I knocked on doors asking if I could camp in people's yards each night) was constantly overwhelming. I was reminded again and again that people can't be defined as "good" or "bad" and that we're all a huge jumble of contradictions and conflicting urges, capable of both great kindness and great cruelty. And when it comes down to helping a particular person standing in front of you, I think 9 people out of 10 veer toward kindness.

kopfgeldjagar21 karma

How many times have you been murdered?

left-right-repeat55 karma

less than 1

KatKatKatKat8817 karma

Do you ever get lonely or wish you had a partner walking with you?

left-right-repeat53 karma

An unexpected thing I've learned about walking is that it's a very flexible medium for expressing your emotional needs. I'm a pretty introverted person, so I love the quiet days when I keep to myself. But when I'm feeling chatty, I can just stop and talk to people. Whatever my state of mind is, I can get what I need out of the day through my walking.

any_delirium15 karma

Oddly specific question: Have you noticed many houses with 1/2 addresses? I collect photos of them as I enjoy walking around cities myself, and I've found some nice ones in the West Village. However, I'm not local to NYC and haven't walked nearly as much of it as you have!

left-right-repeat14 karma

I've definitely seen a few, including the famous 75½ Bedford Street. But I probably don't notice them the way you do. I've found that everyone has things that catch their eye for whatever reason. That's what makes it so fun to see the world through someone else's eyes. It can reveal hidden layers in a place you thought you knew well.

A few of my own collections of photos:

Barbershopz: https://www.flickr.com/search/?sort=date-posted-desc&[email protected]&tag_mode=all&view_all=1&tags=barberz

Churchagogues: https://www.flickr.com/search/?sort=date-posted-desc&[email protected]&tag_mode=all&view_all=1&tags=churchagogue

9/11 memorials: https://www.flickr.com/search/?sort=date-posted-desc&[email protected]&tag_mode=all&view_all=1&tags=911

Dusted_Hoffman4 karma

Dude. What the hell was the point of this? Really?

left-right-repeat4 karma

I'm still figuring it out! Sometimes you just have to try something even if you don't know all the answers.

RfgtGuru0 karma

Dude - what the actual fuck is your illness?

left-right-repeat3 karma

Curiosity?