This week, get to know Untapped Cities contributor Ariel Viera, who runs the Facebook page Urbanist. Ariel makes live Facebook videos with Untapped Cities – we bring him into some of the special places and tours we go to, and he makes the video! So far, we’ve covered the neon signs of the West Village, the newly arrived, Wavertree ship at South Street Seaport, and the remnants of Penn Station.
What’s your favorite Untapped spot in NYC?
There’s one place that comes to mind immediately. Buried deep in Chinatown, there’s this tiny street that’s steeped in history: Doyers Street also known as the Bloody Angle. When I first stumbled upon it, I felt like I was transported back to the 1870s. It’s quiet street that looks unlike anything else in NYC, and it even has speakeasy that I love, but at the same time it’s a snapshot of NYC’s past. I often like going to Doyers Street and envisioning how the tiny streets of Five Points or New Amsterdam looked hundreds of years ago.
What has been your favorite exploration with Untapped Cities so far?
The Neon Signs of the West Village! I’m a native New Yorker and have walked by these neon signs countless times, and broadcasting this tour blew my mind by how much history these signs have and the sheer quantity of neon in this neighborhood alone! NYC is so pivotal to the rise of electricity, from Thomas Edison to Nikola Tesla to the proliferation of neon across the city.
How did you get started on Urbanist?
Urbanist is a combination of my top four passions in life: history, long walks through the city, filmmaking, and community building. They work together splendidly with Facebook Live walking tours. For the past month I’ve just been running with it to see how far I can take the medium of live streaming all while providing good edutainment (education + entertainment), and I’ve met so many wonderful like-minded history buffs and urban explorers. Next up, I aim to take Urbanist across the world to explore the secrets and beauty of cities.
What’s your favorite obscure fact about New York City?
You can find my favorite obscure NYC fact at the corner of 7th Avenue & Christopher Street. Step in front of the cigar shop and look down, you’ll see this strange plaque that reads: “Property of the Hess Estate which has never been dedicated for public purposes.” But be sure to not step on it, because it’s technically trespassing! This is the biggest f-you to the city of New York after they claimed eminent domain on the Hess Estate to carve 7th Avenue through the West Village’s winding streets. Luckily the city forgot this little triangle and it will forever remain private property. This is stubbornness at its finest.
What’s your favorite Untapped place you’ve visited?
The Whispering Gallery in Grand Central Terminal is such a wonderful hidden gem that I found through Untapped Cities. I love when architects add quirks to their structures that bring wonder to countless people.
Where do you want to visit next?
For a moment there I thought where I want to travel next would be difficult to answer, but then I realized there is one place I’ve been DYING to go. Shanghai, the largest and fastest growing city in the world. It’s what NYC was a hundred years and it’s quickly becoming a cultural hub of the world. I want to see what a megacity looks like, I want to feel the pace of Manhattan raised up a notch, and see the future of an increasingly globalized world. Shanghai is world wonder, and though everyone knows NYC now, I have feeling everyone will know Shanghai 20-30 years from now.
Craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Quitting my full time job with a respectable publication to work on Urbanist full-time. The urban exploration and history bug hit me hard, now I’m addicted.
Best Celebrity Sighting?
A few days after watching Inside Llewyn Davis, which is now one of my favorite NYC films, I saw a very bushy bearded Justin Timberlake walking on Bleecker Street. My jaw dropped and I had to do a triple take.