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."