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I love this new mapping project from The New York Times, a reader-sourced guide to the names and boundaries of NYC neighborhoods.
One reason it’s so fascinating is close to home: I live on a blurry part of the map, a place that answers to several names, each backed by a different historical and cultural argument.
My apartment is just a block away from the edge of what was once the Town of Williamsburgh, an offshoot of the Town of Bushwick that became a chartered city in 1851—briefly the 20th-largest in the U.S.—before it was absorbed into Brooklyn and then in turn New York City. Today most project participants say my block is part of East Williamsburg, which sounds like a relabeling by the real estate industry but actually dates to pre-gentrification. But meaningful percentages call it just Williamsburg, or Bushwick. (A sidebar digs into the ambiguities and disagreements over which neighborhoods exist in the city, and where. It points out that for all the arguing elsewhere, some neighborhoods are outlined crisply and by consensus.)
I didn’t know until today that my own street, Bushwick Avenue, used to follow a slightly different route for a few blocks, to my building’s east instead of its west, thus making this a part of historical Williamsburgh going back at least to the 1830s. (In the Robert Moses era, that same street faced the prospect of becoming a freeway to Kennedy Airport.) That boundary still divides the low-slung warehouses of the East Williamsburg Industrial Park from my denser residential neighborhood, endowing my fourth-floor kitchen with a long-distance view.
Another map on my mind right now is this one, of the New York City Marathon route that I’ll follow starting at 9:10 a.m. on Sunday. As a newbie, I’m puzzling especially over the end of the course, and how exactly to meet up with my boyfriend and my mom when I’ve finished running. Forty-eight thousand runners and their moms and boyfriends will make for a pretty crowded Central Park, not to mention all of the surrounding neighborhoods. A lot of us are going to be cold, sweaty, and, regardless of what map we’re using, lost.
For most of a year I’ve been using this planning tool to devise longer and longer practice runs. When I get through the race, I’m going to give it, and my sore knee, a little reprieve; maybe just run where the wind blows for a while, or in the shape of a cat.
Thank you for your donations to Achilles International. My fundraising requirement is satisfied, and I’ll be running the New York City Marathon on November 5.
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