The Bronx through Google Glass

When Google announced that they were looking for participants interested to be a part of their Glass Explorer Program, Ruth Papazian decided that she would take a shot at becoming one of the first to test out the amazing new technology. During the launch of the program, hopeful participants were asked to let Google know what they would do with the wearable computer should they be picked. With a week to pitch their ideas, applicants were asked to post a message of 50 words or less on Google+ or Twitter with the hashtag “#ifihadglass.” In less than 50 characters, Ruth let Google know that if picked, she would begin a project known as Williamsbridge: The Undiscovered Williamsburg.” The project, which would spotlight Bronx-based artists, indie musicians, and filmmakers, would also seek to  investigate why the safe, stable, pleasant, thriving East Bronx neighborhood of Morris Park is underserved by major grocers, retailers and franchises.

The result? Bronx Hipster was born.

Not only has the media been known to portray the Bronx in a less than glamorous light, it also regularly highlights only a small fraction of what it really has to offer. And while the Bronx Zoo, Yankee Stadium, and the New York Botanical Garden are all fantastic places to visit here in the Bronx- there are far more reasons to than the ones you’ve probably read in those short blurbs dedicated to places to visit in the Boogie down.

Ruth resides in the Morris Park section of the Bronx. Visit her blog, and she will let you know that it  is a foodie paradise with the cleanest streets in the entire city, and has a friendly, small-town feel —the residents are so friendly, in fact, that the neighborhood is the second safest police precinct in the entire city. The second safest police precinct in the city and yet she still can’t get her friends from other boroughs to visit. She hopes that allowing others to see her nabe through Google Glass will change their point of view and believes that if only hipsters would take the trip to the northern most borough, they would see that the neighborhood offers them the same amenities of their current stomping grounds-with a much lower monthly rent. “You get a lot of apartment for your money,” she exclaims.

On any given day you can catch Ruth walking down Morris Park Avenue or Williamsbridge Road, Glass snapping pictures of her surroundings and recording videos she later uploads to Youtube or turns into GIF images. Thanks to Google Glass you can explore Morris Park through her eyes without swiping your metro card- but she hopes that you will. A video and GIF images on her blog back in September bring you to G&R Deli on Wiliamsbridge Road, where Tony Rizzo makes fresh mozzarella. While we don’t see her hands, at any moment Ruth could have joined in on the cheese making if she would have liked to- Glass is hands free.

Viewers of Ruth’s Glass videos have the opportunity to see Morris Park exactly as she sees it, and with ease. “I don’t have to walk around with a heavy camera and tripod, I can get right into the action. In one of the videos I recorded at a skate park, I literally walked right up to them and the skaters were zooming past me over the obstacles and doing their tricks.” While the ability of wearing a camera and looking directly into someone eyes while recording has it’s obvious advantages, it also has it’s flaws, “While the subject I’m interviewing is looking in my eyes, I have to make sure I keep my head very still. You really have to be as still as possible. While you do have the intimacy of looking into someone eyes, you can’t use the same body language cues that you would in a normal conversation.” That means keeping the hand gestures and head nods to a minimum.

In addition, while the need for a large heavy camera and tripod-and even cameraman is eliminated, there is still a downside. “The con to that is when I want to zoom in I have to move closer to the subject. When I want to zoom out, I have to move farther away. I’ve learned to glide like a ballerina to make those movements as smooth as possible.” So if you see Ruth making strange movements in the streets of Morris Park, she’s probably just catching the perfect Glass recording or image.

Another day on her blog Ruth takes us to Patricia’s on Morris Park Avenue, where owner Louie Calogero allowed her to roam free in the kitchen- only to find an opportunity to create another awesome GIF later with her recording. Squid — it’s what’s for dinner.

Bronx Restaurant Week is coming up. Unfortunately not a single Morris Park restaurant is listed this year. If the Bronx Tourism Council isn’t even helping to promote this neighborhood in their borough, there is a long way to go before outsiders discover it. If you didn’t already know, Morris Park has a large Italian population of residents- making it a place full of Italian cuisine and food products. “You can buy a lot of the things you can get on Arthur Avenue or even in Little Italy [in Manhattan] for a fraction of the cost.” Ruth also hopes her project will shed light on why the nabe is underserved by major grocers and retailers.

Glass has even helped Ruth to appreciate and discover new things about her neighborhood that she had never noticed or thought about before. She admits that Glass has opened her eyes to the benefits of living in one of the cleanest neighborhoods in the city and has come to appreciate the hour and half long commute, “The East Bronx is affordable. It’s clean. It’s safe. What’s not to like? Because of stereotypes, people are spending more money than they need to to live in an area that is actually a higher crime area than Morris Park.”

Some might wonder why Ruth actually wants outsiders to get wind of the neighborhood she believes is a hidden gem, specifically hipsters.

The people who have lived in this neighborhood are multi-generational. They are welcoming to new people.  It’s got history. It’s authentic. If it’s one thing hipsters like, its authenticity. What I predict is going to happen is hipsters aren’t going to come into the neighborhood and change it. They are going to [keep] the authenticity and use that in their businesses. You do need fresh blood in a neighborhood. People with young children, people to start businesses. They would only add to the fabric.

Hipsters aren’t the only people she hopes will be drawn to her neighborhood. She hopes that with the addition of ferry service and the Metro North to her section of the Bronx, tourists will find time in their itinerary to visit as well. “For a tourist who’s only done Yankee Stadium, this should definitely be a tourist destination.” She also thinks people who get priced out of Brooklyn and Manhattan will discover the nabe as well. “Things are happening here and we’re moving up in the world.”

While Williamsbridge  may never exactly be the next Williamsburg, it is certainly worth being one of the next popular stomping grounds for young adults who wish to call it the next big thing- although it’s already been pretty big to those who are already there. For many Morris Park residents, just like Ruth, the hour+ train ride is worth the trip home to cleaner streets, friendly neighbors, and affordable rent- she just wants everyone to see for themselves. “What we need are pioneers who are willing to endure the commute.” What started with 50 characters has turned into a project with unlimited possibilities.- N.Perrino


Ruth gets up close and personal with skateboarders in a Bronx skate-park to show how Google Glass works:

To find out more about Ruth and her Google Glass Project, visit, check out her Youtube page, or follow her on Twitter.

“Hipsters are the friends who sneer when you cop to liking Coldplay. They’re the people who wear t-shirts silk-screened with quotes from movies you’ve never heard of and the only ones in America who still think Pabst Blue Ribbon is a good beer. They sport cowboy hats and berets and think Kanye West stole their sunglasses. Everything about them is exactingly constructed to give off the vibe that they just don’t care.”

— Time, July 2009


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