The “Six” Boroughs: New Jersey

We’ve arrived at the “sixth” borough in our blog series celebrating Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. We’ve already visited ManhattanBrooklynQueensthe Bronx, and Staten Island, and if you missed the prior posts, we encourage you to go back and read them after you’ve finished reading about New Jersey—the metaphorical “sixth” borough.


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Detail from the map “The Suburban Theory of the Avant-Garde: New Jersey’s Great” featured in “Nonstop Metropolis.”

By virtue of not only its geographic location to the “nonstop metropolis” but its cultural vibrancy and contributions to music, art, poetry, and the birth of new forms and styles west of the Hudson, New Jersey has earned its place as the “sixth” borough of New York, though this moniker has been used to describe any number of places that have a special connection to the city (looking at you, Philadelphia).

We’re going to explore New Jersey’s cultural riches—but if there’s another place akin to a mythical, metaphorical “sixth” borough, please share in the comments.

New Jersey. It is the place where William Carlos Williams published his epic poem, Paterson, which would also become the primary literary output of the last twenty years of his life as it was published in five books from 1946 to 1958. It is a poem that celebrates the city as place of endless possibilities, and which, in the prefatory notes, William explains:

“. . . a man himself is a city, beginning, seeking, achieving and concluding his life in ways which the various aspects of a city may embody—if imaginatively conceived—any city, all the details of which may be made to voice his most intimate convictions.”

Continue reading “The “Six” Boroughs: New Jersey”


The “Six” Boroughs: Manhattan

This is the fifth of the “six” boroughs blog series celebrating Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. We’ve already visited BrooklynQueensthe Bronx, and Staten Island. If you missed the prior posts, we encourage you to go back and read them after you’ve finished reading about Manhattan.


New York City is the cradle of American book publishing (though as this California publisher knows, great books come from all over), and it all started with brothers James and Joseph Harper and their ability to print books at high volumes—thanks to the stereotyping printing process—inexpensively for a mass market.

In what would become Harper’s magazine and the publishing house HarperCollins, the brothers first began their publishing operation two years before the birth of one of the great American writers: Herman Melville. It’s also fascinating to learn that as a great American publisher, Harper & Brothers first rejected Melville and his book, Typee, because it was too fantastic to be true.

Harpers and Harpooners Detail
Detail from the map “Harper’s and Harpooners” featured in “Nonstop Metropolis.” You can spot Herman Melville’s birthplace in the Battery, and see where Harper and Brothers was located.

G.P. Putnam would go on to publish Typee,  which became a best-seller, and Harper and Brothers would pick up Melville’s next six books, including his most famous.

Most people associate Herman Melville with the high seas and a big, white whale, but the Moby-Dick author was quite the urbanite. A native New Yorker, Melville was born in 1819 on Pearl Street in the Battery at Manhattan’s southern end, which he described as the “extreme down-town” and “the insular city of the Manhattoes” who—dreaming of the sea—rushed to the island’s tip.

“There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme down-town is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.
Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see?—Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries.”—Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

But Melville may not have had such romantic feelings for the city that would at times spurn him. Moby-Dick received terrible reviews, as did Melville’s other works, which Paul LaFarge details in his essay “Sailors and Scriveners”:

Moby-Dick was published in 1851 to famously bad reviews, and it sold poorly—but nowhere near as poorly as Melville’s next novel, Pierre; or, The Ambiguities, which is about a young man who brings a great deal of suffering on himself by becoming a writer and moving to New York. Pierre earned Melville $157 during his lifetime and was reviewed by the New York Day Book under the headline “Herman Melville Crazy.” Melville was wrecked . . . By the end of the 1850s, Melville had little reason to love New York City, and yet in 1866 he moved there once again . . .

Like a sailor drawn to the sea, Melville couldn’t leave New York entirely. But perhaps the strongest connection between New York’s publishing industry and the whaling industry is Herman Melville as he tried his hand at both. In the map “Harper’s and Harpooners” featured in Nonstop Metropolisyou can see more of the physical, historical connections between these uniquely different industries.

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Detail of the legend from the map “Harper’s and Harpooners” featured in “Nonstop Metropolis.”

Take a closer look below to stroll through Melville’s Manhattan (click on the map to expand it).

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Dance RecitalJJ SchapiroNonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Rebecca Snedeker, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know and see New York City, in an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey.

The “Six” Boroughs: Brooklyn

This is the fourth of the “six” boroughs blog series celebrating Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. We’ve already visited Queensthe Bronx, and Staten Island. If you missed the prior posts, we encourage you to go back and read them after you’ve finished reading about Brooklyn.


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Detail of “Brownstones and Basketball” map featured in “Nonstop Metropolis.”

Brooklyn’s basketball courts are as much a part of New York’s landscape as are its regal brownstones, where each is often within close proximity to the other. Pick-up games have long been a way to get to know the neighborhood and to play and be friendly with neighbors and strangers.

At Coffey Park in Red Hook, Carmelo Anthony honed his game. Marine Park is where Chris Mullin played, and every Saturday there’s serious pick-up.

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“Brownstones and Basketball” map detail, including Red Hook and Brooklyn Heights neighborhoods, among others.

But development since the 1990s has meant more brownstones are renovated and basketball courts are removed, pointing to the loss of something that’s intrinsically Brooklyn. In fact, this last June conflict in the well-off Brooklyn Heights enclave rose when residents attributed Brooklyn Bridge Park’s basketball players—coming from as far as the Bronx and Queens—to “damaging the character of the neighborhood.” Who and what defines that character is up for discussion.

In his essay, “Empire of Brownstone and Brick,” Thomas J. Campanella traces the formation of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods and the history of its brownstones. Here’s an excerpt:

In an era when Brooklyn has become a global “brand” beloved by British celebrities who name kids for the borough, it is the iconic building type of the moraine—the brown­stone—that people think of. Like New Orleans with its shotgun houses or San Francisco with its Victorian “painted ladies,” Brooklyn is among a handful of American cities essen­tialized in the popular imagination by a particular kind of residential architecture. The brownstone townhouse signifies Brooklyn as much as the borough’s eponymous bridge or Coney Island’s Parachute Jump—perhaps more so. . . . But the brownstone represents only old Brooklyn, the city of the terminal moraine. Outwash Brooklyn has a signature style of residential architecture all its own—the Tudor-revival home, with its faux half-timbered walls and slate tile roofs. This style may not be popular among creative-class elites who clamor for brownstones—at least not yet. But it too is saturated with significance and speaks to the varied and ever-changing ways that our homes can suggest longing at once for the future and for some imagined past.

And perhaps Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts describes Brooklyn’s development and changes best in her essay, “Freed But Not Free”:

The city, we’re sometimes told, is composed of villages. Fruits of segregation or identifica­tion, shaped by the churn of developers’ schemes and capital’s march, some of the places now called “Villages”—those cubic blocks called projects—evince the city’s old will to push those it doesn’t wish to see to the margins, where they’ll remain (unless of course those projects sit in now-rich neighborhoods and are doomed, too, to be sold off ). All sit atop settlements that came before. . . . Visiting these sites now, we’re reminded that when building on unsteady ground and stolen territory, perhaps the most important material is time, and the ability to inhabit an expanded idea of history like the one that Columbia professor Saidiya Hartman offers us when she asserts, “I, too, live in the time of slavery, by which I mean I am living in the future created by it.”

The images above and below are details from the map “Brownstones and Basketball,” which locates notable brownstones and public courts throughout Brooklyn. You can find the map and both essays in full in Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas.

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“Brownstones and Basketball” legend

Dance RecitalJJ SchapiroNonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Rebecca Snedeker, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know and see New York City, in an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey.

The “six” boroughs: Staten Island

This is the third of the “six” boroughs blog series celebrating Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. We’ve already visited Queens and the Bronx. If you missed the prior posts, we encourage you to go back and read them after you’re done here.


Staten Island is the least populous borough of New York City, is the only borough not connected to the MTA Subway system, and is only accessible, without leaving New York City, by the Staten Island Ferry to/from Manhattan and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to/from Brooklyn. However, Staten Island has played an important role in the history of New York City, and has provided many frequently overlooked cultural contributions to the world.

From 1947 to 2001, New York City sent its trash to Fresh Kills, a Staten Island wetlands turned municipal dump, which at its peak receives 29,000 tons of trash per day, ranking as the largest human-made structure on earth. Now, New York’s residential garbage, close to 4 million tons of it a year, is shipped by barge and truck to distant landfills, from Niagara Falls to South Carolina. Fresh Kills received its last waste from Manhattan when it absorbed the rubble from the World Trade Center after September 11, 2001. Holding approximately 108 million tons of trash, it covers 2,200 acres, and is being turned into a park, which when completed will be almost three times the size of Central Park.

Garbage scows bring solid waste, for use as landfill, to Fresh Kills on Staten Island in 1973

The rest of New York complains that Staten Island is a sleepy, insular borough (that’s more like a suburb) that is not worth the effort of exploring. Staten Islanders argue that the rest of the city is a filled with a bunch of parochial bellyachers who have not taken the time to get to know Staten Island’s natural beauty and increasingly diverse population. What everyone agrees on, however, is that the Wu-Tang Clan is the borough’s most well-known entity—and beloved export. In Nonstop Metropolis Joshua Jelly-Schapiro interviews RZA about what it was like growing up on Staten Island.

Joshua Jelly-Schapiro: You grew up between Staten Island and Brooklyn; you lived in public housing in both boroughs. But by your teens you were in Staten Island pretty full time. How did Staten Island compare to Brooklyn in those days, when you were growing up? What do you remember of each?

RZA: One thing about Staten Island that was different from Brooklyn was the ability to walk from one neighborhood to another, to actually have a break from project life. For instance, in Brownsville, in Brooklyn, if I walked from the Marcus Garvey projects to go see my cousin Vince, who lived in the Van Dyke projects, I had to walk through four projects to get there—and each project could be considered “turf.” In fact, each building could be considered turf. But on Staten Island, you can walk from the Park Hill projects to the Stapleton projects, and in between those two projects is something else—”normal” hardworking homeowners, you know. Not projects. When I was on Staten Island I walked a lot—I’d walk from Park Hill to Stapleton, and then from Stapleton to New Brighton. I would take the route that led up Targee Street, and make the right down Van Duzer, and then take Cebra. And on Cebra and Van Duzer, I saw what we’d consider mansions then, big homes. And I think seeing another side of life, that wasn’t ghetto life—I think there was something healthy about that. When I was living in Staten Island in sixth grade, when a snowstorm happens, guess what I’m able to do—I’m able to get out, pull out a shovel, and make $15 hustling, shoveling snow. That wasn’t available in Brownsville. You had breathing space. You were able to walk a few blocks, not worried about fighting, defending, stealing, robbing—things that happen every day in the projects.

To read the rest of the interview, purchase Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas wherever books are sold.

Nonstop Metropolis

Meanwhile, please sit back and listen to some Wu-Tang Clan.


JJ Schapiro

Dance RecitalNonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Rebecca Snedeker, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know New York City, an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey.


The “Six” Boroughs: A Focus on the Bronx

This is the second of the “six” boroughs blog series celebrating Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. If you missed the first in the series, on Queens, you can read that here.


One of the most enduring images of the Bronx is that of a “burning Bronx.” Memorialized by the now well-know phrase “The Bronx is Burning,” we typically think of the Bronx as a borough of misfortune and loss. In the 1950s Robert Moses and his Cross Bronx Expressway tore through the South Bronx. The 1970s brought the fires, a result of declining property values and poor management of city finances. Today, the Bronx is home to one of the five poorest Congressional districts in the U.S. However, the real story of the Bronx is one of growth, natural beauty, and creativity.

Listen to the Bronx’s Grandmaster Flash with “The Message” as we move through all that the Bronx has to offer to New York City

The Bronx is home to one of New York City’s oldest treasures: the Thain Family Forest, 50 acres of the last remaining old-growth forest that originally blanketed the area. Trees in the forest date back to the 18th century, and are situated within the New York Botanical Garden, 250 acres of over one million living plants. The old-growth forest is not only home to centuries old trees, but to wildlife habitats, including coyotes, bald eagles,  and North American river otters.

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The Bronx is well-known as the birthplace of hip hop, but techniques and styles that we take for granted now were groundbreaking and spreading throughout the Bronx in the early 1970s. Grand Wizzard Theodore started scratching records in 1975, when he was only thirteen. In Nonstop Metropolis he shares his memories of growing up in the Bronx.

I lived here in the Bronx, so hip-hop was always around me. When I’d go to the train station I’d see the graffiti on the trains. When I’d go to the parks I’d see the b-boys b-boying. As far as the MCs, there were always guys on the corner harmonizing and freestyling. And then once I saw my brother Mean Gene and Grandmaster Flash with two turntables and a mixer—that’s when I realized I was born into a culture we call hip-hop.

Back the [the parties we threw] were just called jams. We would go into abandoned buildings and do jams and charge people $1.99 or 99 cents to come in. We were doing “hooky parties”—people would skip school and go to the jams and everybody would throw their book bags to the side and we’d play music until three o’clock.

Perhaps nobody better expresses the re-birth of the Bronx than Marshall Berman, whose essay “New York: Seeing through the Ruins” is included in Nonstop Metropolis. Below is an excerpt:

I can remember when I first heard “The Message” blaring from a West Harlem record shop, in the Reagan summer of 1982. Right away I was thrilled. It wasn’t so long ago that I’d lost a kid (Marc Berman, 1975-1980); I’d been pretty low. Was I moving my limbs again? Now these kids from the city’s most horrendous ruins had created a masterpiece that looked the negative in the face and lived with it, and still dreamt of coming through. I thought, if they could dream this, then damn it, we were going to come through. I knew New York still had plenty of sorrow ahead. There were homeless families all over the streets and in the subways. A dear friend of mine had just died of AIDS—and I don’t think it had even been named AIDS. I couldn’t even conceive of crack, our 1980s twist of fate. But I knew our Via Dolorosa had a long way to run. Still, of all the forms of suffering, I thought, the worst is where your imagination shuts down. Once you can imagine getting out of the hole you’re in, even if you can’t imagine how, the worst is past.


Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Rebecca Snedeker, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know New York City, an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey. Preorder your copy today.


The “Six” Boroughs: A Focus on Queens

These past several weeks we’ve revisited Infinite City and Unfathomable City, and made our first foray into New York City with the Wildlife map. Today we’re celebrating Queens, the largest (in area) of the five boroughs of New York City, home to both of New York’s international airports, and host to the Queens Museum, the hosting venue for Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlastie-in exhibition, Nonstop Metropolis: The Remix. Queens’ most defining characteristic, however, is that is the most ethnically and linguistically diverse place on the earth. With this blog post, we’re going to celebrate all that makes Queens what it is.

Queue up Queens’ own, Nas, as you learn more about the borough.

Seventeenth century Queens was home to a site of early religious freedom in the United States. In 1657, 31 citizens of Flushing signed the Flushing Remonstrance, a manifesto for religious freedom under Dutch rule, stating “The law of love, peace and libertie in the states extending to Jews, Turks and Egyptians….for wee are bounde by the law of God and man to doe good unto all men and evil to noe men.” Queens’ modern diversity is reflected in the variety and number of sites of worship. Home to Buddhist temples, Hindu temples, synagogues, baptist churches, Quaker meeting houses, and more, Queens is also home to the Unisphere, the world’s largest globe, erected at the 1964 World’s Fair, dedicated to “Peace through Understanding.”

Queens is also home to more languages than any other place in the world. The Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue subway station sits in the heart of America’s most linguistically diverse neighborhood: a place where people from the world’s linguistically rich countries—including India, Indonesia, Nepal, and the Philippines—converge in a single zip code.

Coptic, the last descendent of the Egyptian language of the pharaohs, has not been a language of daily life for centuries, but lives in as a liturgical language among the Egyptian Christian congregants at St. Mary and St. Antonio’s Coptic Orthodox Church.

Rikers Island, one of the world’s largest jails, holds new languages created by gangs to evade the authorities, as well as some of the first languages of the Americas, spoken by a handful of indigenous Mexican and Guatemalan prisoners who’ve effectively been stripped of their rights due to language barriers.

Mother Tongues and Queens
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These are just a few of the unique and incredible things about Queens. Nonstop Metropolis explores Queens from other angles: environmental, political, and culturally.


Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Rebecca Snedeker, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know New York City, an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey. Preorder your copy today.