I found out about Matt Green when I was absent-mindedly leafing through Air Canada’s En Route magazine. An article featuring an excerpt from Dan Rubenstein’s book Born to Walk: The Transformative Power of a Pedestrian Act caught my attention, and as I read on, Rubenstein introduced Green and all I was thinking about was, “Oh wow, I have to write something about this man for the blog!”
Matt Green is one of the most fascinating real-life flâneurs I’ve heard about. For the past few years, he has been on a quest to walk every street of every borough of New York City, with the desire to explore neighborhoods that he would normally never visit and document his discoveries. He posts photos from his wanderings on his personal website, imjustwalkin.com. Everything that’s red on the map in the image above represents the territory he’s covered thus far.
Green’s journey began with an epic walk across the United States, where he discovered the magic of wandering: As Rubenstein put it, “Without specific destinations to anticipate, Green could appreciate anything he saw, anywhere he was, instead of counting the miles until he reached, say, South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore.” When Green returned to New York, he chose not to return to the 9-5 workforce, beginning instead the next phase of his journey which, upon completion, will consist of approximately 14,000 kilometers of New York City exploration. Rubenstein paints a lovely picture of Green’s daily routine as a “sociologist of the street”:
“[He] is mostly looking for those human moments that connect us to the urban web. And there is a scientific formality to his method. He meticulously maps each day’s route in a pocket-size black notebook…He simply wants to continue his ‘exhaustive journey through an inexhaustible city’ – and, after each outing, to research the day’s most compelling images so he can write the descriptions that accompany the photos on his website.”
The moment I finished reading the article, I googled Matt Green and, to my delight, discovered his TED talk, which is a must-watch for anyone interested in the flâneur’s path. In this talk, Green likens the city to a living organism and beautifully uses the metaphor of human relationships to outline how we can enrich our own urban explorations. The whole talk is well worth a listen, but I have included some highlights below the video:
“If we really want to make our relationship with our city a more enriching and rewarding experience, then we have to become better listeners. We have to become more curious about our city, we have to seek out moments of intimacy, and we have to get to know the place in a way that only we can.”
“I’d just encourage you to work on providing yourself with an environment in which your innate curiosity can flourish, free of the restraints of expectations, categories, and labels. So just, you know, pick a random point on a map and walk there. Or go out on lunchtime and explore a few blocks near your office each day, or just take a bus somewhere you haven’t been and spend an hour wandering around.”
“Just walk, and be present, and appreciate what’s around you…Listen to what the city has to tell you and cherish the moments of intimacy that the two of you share.”
…The first time I listened to this TED talk, I was sitting in a cafe and noticed the people around me giving me funny looks because I was nodding and taking notes so vigourously. Seriously though, all that Green says here creates the most beautiful blueprint for walking the path of the flâneur. It’s all about allowing yourself the space to be creative, letting go of seeking, listening, and cherishing all that wandering brings. It’s a joy and an inspiration discovering his work.