Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood began publishing in the Spring of 2000 and has so far published over a thousand pieces of original writing. In 2002 it was nominated for a Webby Award in the Print and Zine category. That same year, a collection of selected pieces from the site appeared in book form,
Before and After: Stories from New York. Another anthology is in the works.
The site combines a magazine with a map. It uses the external, familiar landscape of New York City as a way of organizing the wildly internal, often unfamiliar emotional landscapes of the city dweller.
It is about a specific place – New York – and it is about the many different consciousness that thrive and wilt and rage and reminisce here. We publish reportage, personal essays, urban sketches– any piece of writing that might illuminate a corner of life in the city. By and large everything you read on the site is true. The events of 9/11 were the site’s focus for a while, but this is a site about a place, not a disaster, and we’re open to all kinds of topics.
For the first five or so years the front page of the site was based on a satellite photograph of a map of Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn that was divided into sections, each representing a neighborhood. If you clicked on one of these sections you zoom into that neighborhood. The red dots link to articles. The green dots give you location.
In 2005 we switched to using Google Maps, which are in color, and can be zoomed into and out of more extensively, and are generally more flexible and user friendly, though perhaps lacking in some of the gritty drama of the old black and white maps, which looked like something one would find on the wall of a detective’s office.
Like any neighborhood, or city, or person, Mr.Beller’s Neighborhood is a work in progress. We are always open to new additions.
Who is Mr. Beller?
Mr. Beller has echoes of other Misters, such as
Mr. Ed, Mr. Ross, Mr. Rogers, and Mr. Softee.
He is someone rushing to work, or taking a solitary stroll along the river, or waving madly amidst a crowded bar, trying to get the bartender’s attention.
He’s this image William Steig drew for the site, along with its original logo.
On a less abstract note, Mr. Beller is the front for a bunch of editors and writers gathered together by Thomas Beller, author of two works of fiction,
His most recent book is a collection of personal essays, "How To Be a Man."
He is a contributing editor at Travel and Leisure Magazine and The Cambodia Daily, and a co-founding editor of Open City Magazine. He is co-editor, with Kip Kotzen, of
"With Love and Squalor, a book of essays about J.D. Salinger"
In addition to, Before and After: Stories from New York, he edited "Personals," a collection of original essays published by Houghton Mifflin in 1998, filled with the early work of many interesting writers such as Bliss Broyard, Brady Udall, Toure, Meghan Daum, Robert Bingham, Strawberry Saroyan, and others.
Notes on the old map images…
These images were taken by a plane flying over the island. Every dozen blocks or so, another picture was taken. This is what accounts for the odd, patchwork look of the Hudson and East River on the main map.
The main map, showing most of the island, is oddly beautiful to look at. The more detailed neighborhood maps, are downright disturbing after a while. You see Manhattan from a distant yet oddly intimate perspective. The closest I ever came to such a view was the time a plane, taking a very strange flight path, flew more or less right over Manhattan.
In a way my memory of Manhattan seen from above has a similar feel to the close-up view of the neighborhood maps: the light flew against the buildings at strange angles, and, from the plane, I was acutely aware of what a little island this is. So much ado about nothing! From this angle (and perhaps only from this angle) Manhattan looks like a benign place.
Seen from above, you see how densely packed together it is, tighter than it ought to be, self-regarding, almost haughty. But there are also spaces and valleys and all sorts of incredible looking crevices that immediately evoke Manhattan of days gone by. Its many previous incarnations somehow shine up at the viewer above.
The map is in black and white, so it has an odd surveillance feel to it.
The surveillance gets even more conspicuous on the neighborhood maps. Here you can examine, peruse, be specific. Find places.
If you are intimate with a single building in Manhattan, you’ll probably be able to locate it on the map.
And what then? if you think you have some interesting facts about the place, either in the journalistic mode or in the form of a personal essay – anything that can give us a window into the history of the place – tell Mr. Beller a story about the place.
The best explanation of what we are looking for can be found by reading the other pieces on the site.