- Census of Places That Matter
Boy, the way Glenn Miller played Songs that made the H it Parade. Guys like us, we had it made. Those were the days!—Lyrics to “All in the Family”
The 1970s sitcom All in the Familyopened with a sequence of views of New York City, moving from a high aerial view of Manhattan, through low-level aerial views of Queens, to street-level views of houses, and finally coming to rest on the double house presented as the home of the fictional Archie Bunker. [End Page 120]Although the exact location of the house was not identified in the show—Archie often quoted his address as 704 Hauser Street—the double house used in the title sequence stands at 89-70 Cooper Avenue in Queens. It is one of nearly seven hundred sites that appear on the Census of Places that Matter (www.placematters.net/places), an online repository of culturally significant sites in New York City. This census is the growing result of work begun in 1998 and cosponsored by New York’s City Lore and the Municipal Art Society to “identify, celebrate, interpret and protect places that tell the history and anchor the traditions of New York’s many communities.” The content of the census is a mix of well-known landmark places (e.g. Governors Island, the Apollo Theater) and less familiar sites; it is a result of nominations from organizations and individuals. It is in reflecting the interests of ordinary people that I think the census takes on its greatest value. Without the Internet, this kind of project would likely require a central repository or document under the control of an individual or organization; it would lack the sense of unmediated participation that the census promises. But beyond simply organizing information and enabling ongoing updates—qualities in some degree present in every Web site—what makes the Census of Places that Matter uniquely valuable?
The census opens with an alphabetized list of sites across New York’s five boroughs. Each entry indicates the site’s neighborhood, its borough, and gives a one-line description. In most but not all cases, a linked page of additional information provides a brief background profile and one or more completed nomination forms of variable scope and quality. Several of the profiles include in-depth information concerning site histories, detailed descriptions, and discussions of significance with regard to a neighborhood, a borough, or the city as a whole. The information page for Governors Island is typical of these detailed entries, featuring a 1,600-word essay describing the site’s location, history, physical characteristics, and cultural significance, along with citations and links to additional resources and nomination forms from individuals testifying to the site’s value with respect to diverse criteria (e. g., architecture, personal or family significance, and preservation efforts). If all of the sites in the census were supported with information of richness and depth similar to that provided for sites like Governors Island, or for the Skylight Gallery (a Brooklyn gallery “featuring work by artists from Africa and the Diaspora”), or for Manhattan Plaza (“Subsidized apartments for people in theater professions”), the Census of Places That Matter would be an invaluable and entirely unique resource for anyone interested in the cultural history of the city, whether professionally or casually. The dozen or so sites that cite interviews by Place Matters staff as a source clearly rise to the top of the census when considered in terms of the depth and breadth of information provided.
More typical of the census entries is Glaser’s Bake Shop in Manhattan. Unlike Governors Island, Glaser’s has no association with historical events of citywide significance; unlike Archie Bunker’s House, Glaser’s has no aura of media attention around it. Glaser’s is not the kind of site likely to appear in a book chronicling the “official” history of New York (as Governors Island does). 1It is also not likely to appear in an essay or review...