Jospeh Mitchell and How to Enjoy New York City

A few weeks ago, The New Yorker ran a previously unpublished essay by former staff writer Joseph Mitchell, who died in 1996. The essay was a celebration of the city and its less-touted pockets. Mitchell describes in detail how he spent his days crisscrossing the city by subway and bus, getting off at random spots and just walking. Sometimes he’d re-visit much-loved buildings, and  he seemed to have a propensity for churches–their evolution and the spiritual nature of each one’s specific brand of faith–but mostly, he walked. And it wasn’t just aesthetic pleasure he was after. He’d often end up near abandoned warehouses and in front of weed-filled tableaus. It was the totality of the city and everything it had to offer, which for Mitchell meant seeking out not the gilded midtown he saw daily, “but the vast, spread-out, sooty-gray and sooty-brown and sooty-red and sooty-pink horizontal city, the snarled-up and smoldering city, the old, polluted, betrayed, and sure-to-be-torn-down-any-time-now city.”

Mitchell’s relationship with the city is a prescription for how best to enjoy it. He and I are kindred in that regard. It’s hard to really know a place without seeing it from every angle–from the manicured highrises to the poverty-stricken projects and everything in between. And there’s no better way to see it than to walk. Everywhere. A lot. And there are few places in the world better suited for that kind of exploration. I love the anticipation and excitement I feel before journeying to a neighborhood I haven’t spent much time in. Each block has the potential to delight, inspire and educate. New York is, after all, a city of perpetual discovery.


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