After finding a post yet again focusing on an image of Paley Park, this time from a Canadian publication, I have to speak my piece. There are many more pocket parks than Paley Park. Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Paley Park, it’s just that it seems to be the only park that gets showcased when someone writes about these little green gems in the middle of the city.
Rev. Linnette C. Williamson Memorial Park was the first pocket park to be created in 1965 under the leadership of Whitney North Seymour, Jr. A boom of pocket park creation followed in the coming years including the creation of Paley Park designed by Zion & Breen and opened May 1967. Perhaps Paley is mentioned so often because it exemplifies what a pocket park should be in the eyes of the creators of what are actually known as ‘vest-pocket parks.’ It is easily seen by those passing by on the street, yet separate and welcoming. It has comfortable and movable seating, foliage and amenities such as a waterfall that masks the noise of the city creating a peaceful atmosphere.
Yes, I love Paley Park, too, but I also love Worldwide Plaza at 825 Eighth Avenue, One East River Place at 525 East. 72nd Street, Elevated Acre at 55 Water Street and 1211 Avenue of the Americas (otherwise known as Sixth Avenue).
These are only four of the best public spaces in my book. Of the 530+ Privately Owned Public Space (POPS) on the books in NYC, only about 225 were still used as intended with seating, foliage, etc. My guide has 56 of the BEST Pocket Parks of NYC, hence the title. BEST means it has seating and other amenities that make it a comfortable place to ‘take a load off’ in the middle of a busy day in Manhattan.
If you feel I missed a site, it may turn up in a future revision, but I would love to hear about your favorites in the comment section.
So visit Paley Park if you must, and I definitely encourage a visit, but make sure you head about two doors to the East and see a piece of the Berlin Wall at the tiny Continental Illinois Building’s pocket park.
These pocket parks really are amazing.
Pocket Parks Publishing
is excited to announce
BEST Pocket Parks of NYC
is available in paperback
in advance of the official
January 15, 2014
This guide to the location and history of pocket parks is the culmination of three years of research to find and document the best pocket parks and public spaces in New York City. There are roughly 530 POPS (privately owned public spaces) on the city's roster with roughly 230 that have seating, but little else. I have chosen 56 of THE BEST spaces that host seating, greenery and amenities such as waterfalls, sculpture or art - things that make them special. Where possible, I have included the history of the space or some interesting tidbit of information about the creation of the space. This is by no means an all-inclusive list, so future revisions are planned.
If you are an adventurous traveler who likes to learn different things about the cities you visit, or a curious local who passes these spaces every day and always wondered about them, please visit Amazon.com and order your copy of BEST Pocket Parks of NYC. Also be on the lookout for future guides to future cities' pocket parks and public green spaces.
NOTE: Kindle version available soon.
Order your copy in advance of the official January 15, 2014 publication date and make note of your favorites. When spring arrives, you will be ready to hit the ground running to see these 'little green spaces in the middle of the city.'
This is a slide at River Place Apartments located at 650 West 42nd St. ‘Playground,’ the sculpture built by Tom Otterness, was unveiled in May 2009 and provides a kid-friendly slide for local children who can also step on a switch to turn on a sprinkler on hot days.
Thank you to the readers who helped me discover the name of this piece.
This is yet another beautiful indoor space. Enveloped by glass and sprinkled with mature bamboo trees, some 35 feet tall. Moveable tables and chairs combined with the streaming sunlight makes this a beautiful place to sit and relax. Nearby you will find Trump Tower and the Sony Plaza, two more lovely indoor plazas which are sure to be featured on this blog in the future.
Enter on either E. 56th or 57th Streets just east of Madison Avenue.
Bennett Park is a usable plaza on the Gouverneur Lane side of 77 Water St. There is built-in bench seating, some trees and greenery, and sometimes shade when the sun hits it correctly. This is an inviting plaza filled with whimsical art and sculpture that almost dwarfs the building to which it is attached, not for its size, but for the fact that you are so entranced by the art and sculpture surrounding the building that you almost do not look up at the building itself.
My son went with me on this site visit and the engineer in him was immediately drawn to ‘Helix’ (1969), a sculpture by Rudolph de Harak in the right side of the frame. Harak took 120 one-inch thick stainless steel strips to create a spiral that actually looks like a helix or a strand of DNA.
Have you ever passed an inviting seating area between two massive skyscrapers in the city and wondered about it or do you just sit down and finish your coffee? I have wondered who built these spaces and why ever since I discovered them as a resident of New York City in the ‘80’s. Many are created in honor of a fallen hero, but most are created in exchange for building variances such as the permission to build higher or wider. They are not well-regulated, so the fact that one has become simply a widened sidewalk and not a park at all often goes unnoticed.
The first pocket park came about when in 1965, Mayoral candidate, John Lindsay saw a need to spruce up the city a bit. He suggested that New York City create “vest pocket parks” or “adventure playgrounds.” Later, when he was elected Mayor of New York City, he implemented his ideas and helped created the first vest pocket parks in the city. According to an essay on the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Parks Commissioner, Thomas P.F. Hoving encouraged their use for public events and aided Lindsay by bring various events to the parks. He even banned cars in Central Park on Sundays. In 1967, the city completed 10 vest pocket parks in vacant city lots equal to or smaller than one-quarter acre.
The very first pocket park was created at 65 W. 128th by Reverend Linnette C. Williamson of Christ Community Church of Harlem. She was instrumental in developing this pocket park, so it was later dedicated in her honor.
There are now some 500+ pocket parks or public spaces on the city’s list of POPS (Privately Owned Public Space) , but only a little of 350 in Manhattan that are comfortable to sit in or even have seating. That’s why I am writing this book. ‘Pocket Parks of NYC’ will be a guide to the usable pocket parks and public spaces in Manhattan, both official and unofficial. These will be the parks that you can sit and relax in, maybe with a snack kiosk nearby or the odd waterfall, and maybe on top of a building or indoors. I conduct my research by methodically strolling through Manhattan in addition to my online research and word-of-mouth tips.
Other than Frommer's-type sections in other books, there is nothing like it on the market aside from Jerrold Kayden’s textbook ‘Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience,’ which contains all of the spaces, even those that are now widened sidewalks or private space, and from which the City's database was created.
One of the exciting pieces of this project is that it is replicable in other cities. It will also become a dynamic website where aficionados could post information about their favorite pocket parks along with their reviews and opinions, an ebook and an app for your smartphone or tablet. Other cities will have their own guides in the future.
So, what is a pocket park? It is a little green space in the middle of the big city where one can sit, relax and take a break before moving on to their next position in the big game of Chess we call "Life."
The good news: The City is creating a park in response to the local community’s requests for more public space. This Dyer Ave. triangle is only a small part of the larger project. Read about it on Streetsblog.
The bad news: When people said they wanted more parks and green space, I don’t think they’re referring to a square of asphalt covered by a green outdoor carpet with a few potted plants in the middle of Lincoln Tunnel traffic. I’m just sayin’.
In all fairness, this is just the first segment of a larger project that will include various strips of land on Dyer Avenue according to Mathew Katz on DNAInfo.com.
“The area will soon undergo a larger transformation into Dyer Avenue Park — which will include a strip on the east side of Dyer Avenue between West 34th and West 35th streets, expected to open in 2016, and a canoe-shaped section of West 36th Street between Ninth and Dyer Avenues, expected to open in June.”
This is the pocket park at the Sovereign Apartments at 425 East 58th near Sutton Place in New York City. It is one block south of the 59th St. Bridge and I have to say it was very loud from the nearby bridge traffic. Still, this will again be a beautiful place once all of the landscaping work is completed.
It seems the entire city is getting ready for the summer season when people stroll more. Some of the parks I've visited previously are now temporarily fenced in with landscapers and stone masons hard at work inside. Let's hope the outcome of all of this industry is a few more comfy respites for those of us who enjoy walking through the city when the weather is nice.
Photograph 2006 by Jacqueline Banerjee
As I write Pocket Parks of NYC, I obviously continue to research other cities for other books. It was during one of these research sessions that I found this cool program sponsored by the Mayor of London. Here’s the blurb from their website:
The Pocket Parks Programme is part of the Mayor’s London’s Great Outdoors - the initiative to improve streets, squares, parks, and canal and riverside spaces across London. The Pocket Parks Programme aims to deliver 100 new or enhanced pocket parks across London by March 2015.
Applicants can apply for up to £50,000 to clean up existing spaces that have been poorly maintained or create a green space out of underused space. Projects must be hosted by a London borough. The deadline for the first round of applications has passed, but this is definitely a project to keep on my radar.
The more parks I discover in Manhattan, the more I see the value of maintaining these green spaces and creating new ones. I love cities, but no one can deny it’s wonderful to come upon a little piece of the country in the midst of all of that concrete and steel, traffic noise and crowds.
I can’t wait to explore these spaces when London has finished with them.
© 2013 Rosemary O’Brien of Pocket Parks Publishing, LLC
Thank you to Stan O'Connor http://www.oconnorgreentoursnyc.com/ for the use of this video. The waterfall is located behind the McGraw-Hill building located on 6th Avenue and runs behind the building from 48th St. to 49th St. Check out the video to learn more.
© 2013 Rosemary O’Brien of Pocket Parks Publishing, LLC