In every city, there are invisible and visible borders. A visible border could be a highway between two neighborhoods, while an invisible border might be the subtle shift between feeling safe walking on one’s one and feeling at risk of harm. Another invisible border might be the ever-changing line that divides us from the city we know well, and the one we keep at arm’s reach.
As a group, locate and mark out both an invisible and a visible border that you encounter during your walk. As you traverse these borders, discuss what makes them so and the places they delineate. While visible borders are usually fairly easy to identify and define, invisible borders are more contingent on the imaginary and the subjective. Allow your senses to guide you as you move between spaces, and trust your judgement as a form of mapmaking. Also, please allow for debate and dissent when practicing your invisible-border-making! After all, one person’s boundary might not be another’s.
Based on my perusal of the Walking Institute archive, I decided to engage with the ideas of borders during my walk this week. So, I ventured into Queens to walk as far as I could along the old, abandoned Rockaway Beach spur of the Long Island Railroad. Accustomed to well-worn paths, trails, and the concrete flatness of New York, I was surprised by the physicality of the walk: the late fall thorns tore my clothes, there was poison ivy everywhere, and at many moments I had to clamber through the significant undergrowth and the downed trees that covered the tracks. At one point, I climbed over a fence topped with barbed wire, and then had to climb another fence to leave a parking lot that barred me from the entrance to Forest Park. In general, I reject the colonial attitude behind most “urban exploration,” so it was strange to find myself so illicit amidst this patch of under-used land.
I thought a great deal about what it meant to walk on this sliver of land through one of the most densely populated, diverse counties in the United States. A decommissioned train track is full of ghosts, and no more so than in central Queens, where the trees were filled with birds and there was a wildness unusual to the city. In some parts of the walk, there were fences upon fences, each with a hole carefully cut through, and in other parts, the forest was dense enough to block out all visual reminders of the housing that surrounded me (but, the sound of the highways and overhead flights never entirely left me).
Addendum: There is a debate about this strip of land that encapsulates many of the issues that surround a decommissioned plot like this. The land itself is at odds to the principle of park-making in New York, and opponents of the railway becoming a park argue that it will bring unwanted attention and people to land that is literally in their backyards. Others argue that the original rail service should be restored, allowing residents of these areas to shorten their commutes by as much as half. Some see the wildlife and birds that have found this place and seek to protect them. Ultimately, and perhaps I’m too cynical, but I’m sure the financial future of this land will determine how it is developed and who will be considered the ideal user.