In the first story of Paul Auster’s dizzyingly great anthology book “The New York Trilogy”, the protagonist passes his time by going on long and winding walks around Manhattan, taking him through avenues right in his own neighbourhood that he may never have known otherwise. For the last six-plus years, real life New York resident Matt Green has been taking this concept several steps farther (pun intended) – he has been in the midst of a quest to walk through every single block, park and basically any other outdoor space in all five boroughs of the largest and most populated city in the world.
The World Before Your Feet follows in the footsteps (I just can’t help myself) of a long line of Don Quixote-like docs about regular citizens with an eccentric goal and an obsessive drive to see it through. For Green, there is no cause or monetary purpose in mind for this quest beyond his own personal satisfaction. A former engineer, he quit his job on a whim because he felt stuck in the office environment and wanted to be more engaged with the natural world. This led to his first mission, a walk all the way across the United States (from New York to Oregon), which he accomplished in the span of a few months back in 2010, receiving some national media coverage along the way. After that momentous achievement, he decided he wanted to turn his attention to the city he calls home, kicking off an expansive urban exploration project.
By not having his own apartment and crashing with friends or pet-sitting for people while they’re away, Green can afford to spend all of his time planning his walks, executing them and then recapping his progress, complete with numerous photos, on his blog. It seems like a pretty solitary existence at first and director Jeremy Workman makes a brief detour to explore a couple of Green’s failed former romantic relationships. But the chipper and cheery Green doesn’t really seem phased by this, preferring to find joy in his constantly changing surroundings and his interactions with the people that inhabit them.
Green is essentially an expert on every aspect of the city, from the trees and vegetation to the architecture to the street cleaning and garbage pickup systems. As an esoteric tour through New York, the doc is fascinating; with Green meticulously researching every area he passes through and shining light on forgotten stories and figures that are important contributions to the historical makeup of the city. It all makes you want to immediately take the next flight out to LaGuardia and experience it for yourself.
Even beyond the majesty of New York, The World Before Your Feet works as a testament to exploration in general. Green’s quest has no end in sight because you can never really stop finding new things if you keep looking for them. This spirit proves so infectious that maybe you’ll want to start taking the long route to work from now on.