The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6000 Miles in the City

Princeton Univ. Nov. 2013. 456p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780691144054. $29.95. SOC SCI
OrangeReviewStarHelmreich (sociology, CUNY Graduate Ctr.; What Was I Thinking? The Dumb Things We Do and How To Avoid Them) set himself a formidable task: he walked every block in New York City over a four-year period, producing what he calls an "ethnographic study" comprised of vignettes based on interviews with hundreds of residents on sidewalks, streets, and even in private homes. The result: a magisterial work that examines how people live in this large, complex, and evolving urban landscape. He finds that the city is as dynamic as ever, benefiting in large part from the influx of immigrants. He also cites the dramatic changes, both positive and negative, wrought by gentrification. Most interestingly, he assesses how people of different races, religions, and income statuses can coexist peacefully in "Balkan-like" communities. But chronic problems such as poverty, unemployment, and the lack of affordable housing continue to afflict many. The book is replete with references to additional scholarly studies and statistical analyses that do make it seem a bit dense at times. No matter; it's an enthralling portrait of a metropolis that Helmreich clearly loves.
VERDICT This is a landmark achievement, for those wanting to dig deeper than The Encyclopedia of New York City, edited by Kenneth T. Jackson. Highly recommended to sociologists, urban demographers, New York historians, and all walking enthusiasts in the city.
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