Without a Destination, This New Yorker Walks 8,000 Miles to See Entire City
NEW YORK—Living in the most walkable city in the country, perpetually in-motion New Yorkers probably walk more than anyone. But Matt Green, a man with no address, endeavors to walk 8,000 miles of New York City, purely for the sake of walking.
It is an attempt to see every inch of the city, and he had thought he would be done by now.
Five years ago, Green quit his job as an engineer, then his apartment lease ran out, and he threw the idea of a permanent residence out the window, moving from place to place, staying with friends here and there.
Six months later, he went on a cross-country trek from Rockaway Beach in Queens to Rockaway Beach in Oregon, relying on the kindness of strangers when he wasn’t camping out in the fields.
It felt like a vacation, Green said, but when he returned he wasn’t ready to stop walking. He decided he’d walk all the streets of New York City—streets that span about 6,000 miles, plus some extra mileage for repeated streets—just to walk it.
Anywhere else it’d seem slightly extreme, but moving often and walking a lot, even in this capacity, seems next to normal in a city like New York.
“Part of it’s just kind of my personality,” Green said on his thousandth day of walking in late September. “I don’t think it’s actually important to walk literally every single street. That’s just the way I like to do things.”
Green is a completionist with a very singular focus—”I can’t multitask at all,” he says, struggling with his camera for a second. “See, I can’t even talk and take a photo at the same time”—and attaches a sort of purist mentality to the walk.
A project like walking the entirety of New York City’s publicly accessible streets seems like the kind of thing that would have a Brooklyn-based Kickstarter campaign attached, and a rather successful one at that, but Green has never tried to monetize the walk.
When Green started, he thought he might need to find sponsorship to complete the project, “but that never felt right,” he said.
“The idea of this walk was always very personal and it seemed weird to try to use it to sell shoes or whatever,” Green said. Then it occurred to him to just walk and forget about trying to own an apartment. He would figure it out on the way.
But as personal as the project is, Green is very much aware of the public side of his walk, which he documents on his blog imjustwalkin.com.
“The toughest thing for me, I think, is the amount of time I spend not walking,” Green said. “It’s tough not knowing how long it’ll take, and not being able to make consistent progress.”
When Green first began, he thought he would be able to walk all day and then spend an hour at night posting photos. Now he’s spending more time researching his blog posts than walking.
Curiosity drew him to look up the buildings and monuments he’d pass by and photograph, but despite the fulfillment in learning and documenting the bits and pieces of his walk, the public side adds pressure.
“Sometimes I feel like what I really need to do is get good photos while I’m out on the walk, but that was never the idea behind doing it in the first place,” Green said.
He gets a lot of inquiries on what he thinks the best neighborhood is, what’s most interesting, or even where the best block in the city is (an absurd question, in his opinion).
In that sense, he prefers the unexciting days, which are still never boring or uninteresting. There’s a stress that accompanies the excitement, he says, a burden to document and capture all of it so everyone else can see just how cool something is. It can start to feel artificial.
“Sometimes I spend a lot of time reminding myself that I just need to go on and see things, and not worry about the rest of it,” Green said.
How to Finish
A friend of Green’s, Jeremy Walkman, is a documentary filmmaker who has been wanting to film the walk. He makes films about obsessive people, Green says, and his last film, Magical Universe, was about the life and work of a reclusive artist who created works of Barbie Dolls.
For better or for worse, Green says, he finishes what he starts. His own project may be kind of obsessive, “but not in an unhealthy way, I hope.”
“I think you have to be kind of obsessed with things to conquer any kind of overwhelming project,” Green said. It’s definitely a goal one could accomplish as a hobby, he adds, as he currently spends over 40 hours a week just doing research for his blog. If you’re walking 40–50 miles on weekends, you’d be done in a few years.
In fact, City University of New York professor William Helmreich previously walked every street in four years and wrote a book on it that was published last year.
Green has quirks in his approach—like getting off the sidewalk when making a turn so he can walk the entire length of a block curb to curb, and making a point to return to a block at the end of his walk if it was closed due to construction—but he is only obsessive within reason.
As time’s gone on, Green has tried to normalize his life.
He keeps his possessions down to things that fit within a large hiking backpack (“at this point the idea of having much more is kind of intimidating”), though he’s recently borrowed a car from his parents and makes use of it from time to time.
He hasn’t had a problem with housing in his five years, staying with friends here and there, though more recently he’s started cat sitting for friends on vacation for longer periods, and things like that.
“I definitely do things that are not related to this,” Green said. “Like hanging out with friends, normal stuff. Stuff I do just because it’s fun.”
The Romance of Travel
Green’s journey to his NYC walk was gradual.
“I don’t know exactly why,” he said. He was working as an engineer and got tired of sitting inside every day, at a desk, in front of a computer—though it’s basically what he spends most days doing for his blog now.
“It wasn’t very fulfilling so kind of toward the end of my time at that job I started doing some long walks,” Green said.
The walks turned into a walking club, where random people would meet up and walk 20 miles a day over weekends and have dinner together at the end, traversing random neighborhoods. Then an idea struck Green to walk across America, accompanied with a vision of the sunshine through a prairie.
Green found the blog of someone else who had walked across America several times, so he took down some tips. He made a point to plan the trip to cross through North Dakota (“in some way it seemed, in my head, the most non-descript state”), and spent most nights camped out in front of strangers’ yards.
“It was great,” he said. “When you drive it in a car it’s just fields and it seems boring, you can’t wait for it to be over, but when you’re walking you can see what the different plants are in the field, you can hear the birds, you can really appreciate the kind of straight-line geography of it.”
It’s a romantic notion, he says, and he had garnered a large following during that trip.
There are far less people interested in the minutia of New York City though—what’s 8,000 miles to a New Yorker, anyway?
“What’s kind of funny to me is that a lot of people will ask me if I get bored,” Green said. “But no one asks you that when you’re an engineer or when you’re doing some other same thing every day. That’s most of life.”