Park Renaissance in Lower Manhattan

For the last 10 years, New York City has slowly but most definitely surely been adding more park space to lower Manhattan—much of it absolutely wonderful. In fact, it’s most often not only well-designed, but aesthetically gratifying—beautiful, why don’t we just say it?—inventive, and plain fun.

A great example of this lower Manhattan park renaissance is the High Line ( Located in the old meatpacking district—once a desolate part of New York, now decidedly chic—the High Line is an elevated park where trains once rolled by. It runs from Gansevoort Street to West 30th Street, along Washington St. at the south end, then between Tenth and Eleventh avenues on the north end. Also on the west side is the newly opened Pier 25, not far from famed Stuyvesant High School, which features an 18-hole miniature golf course.

The east side of Lower Manhattan is having its own surge, as well. I took a walk recently from the Staten Island Ferry terminal up to the Brooklyn Bridge, and there was a flurry of activity. Much of the new construction is going on under the East River Drive—elevated at this point—where there will be public areas, landscaped with amenities for walkers. Near the South Street Seaport, Pier 15 is being completely transformed and will feature a café and lots of green. In short, Lower Manhattan, in terms of park space, is getting better and better and better.

Pocket Parks

When is a public space with trees and benches too small to be called a park? When it’s a pocket park. They’re also called vest-pocket parks, mini-parks and—gasp—parkettes. These spaces are too small for any of the traditional park activities—running, cycling, Frisbee-tossing, and so on. But because they’re often located near big buildings and lots of pedestrian traffic, the parks provide a welcome respite from the sound and fury of New York City. None of them are probably worth a planned visit—not like their big brothers and sisters—but when you come across, pause and check out their assuming beauty.

Located at 53rd Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues—not far from Saks, Rockefeller Center and the Museum of Modern Art—Paley Park is one of New York’s finest pocket parks. Here you can sit undisturbed and rest your tired dogs while thumbing through your trusty Frommer’s New York City. Or simply close your eyes and take a catnap.

Other pocket parks are dotted within the city. If you’re reading this and have access to the Internet, check out the very good list of New York pocket parks compiled by Jacquelin Carnegie:

By the way, pocket parks are not to be confused with what the city is now calling Public Plazas. Defined by the City’s Department of Transportation (which administers them) as “a public space in the city that provides a place for people to enjoy the public realm,” the chief difference seems to be a lack of trees. Regardless, they’re more places where you can sit and relax in the middle of it all. Whatever they’re called, let’s just be grateful.

The Little Red Lighthouse

Also known as Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse, this little red lighthouse located under the George Washington Bridge in Fort Washington Park on the Hudson River was the inspiration for the 1942-children’s book classic, The Little Red Lighthouse and The Great Gray Bridge, by Hildegarde Swift and Lynd Ward. Built in New Jersey in 1880 and reconstructed and moved to its current spot in 1921, it was operational until 1947. The lighthouse was to be removed in 1951, but because of its popularity there was a public outcry and it was saved. It’s now a New York City landmark and on the list of National Register of Historic Places. It’s a fun place for the kids to explore and scenic picnic spot in nice weather. It’s open to the public, with guided tours by the New York City Urban Park Rangers (tel. 212/304-2365) from spring through fall.

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