Of all the places we went in New York, the parks stand out for me as the places that really wowed me the most. This is the first in a series of posts about the various parks we visited. What they all had in common (apart from obviously being in New York) was the way they provided a range of ways to use and enjoy them, in addition to the obvious ones of looking at the planting or just sitting and being (aka people-watching).
Brooklyn Bridge Park is still in the making, but if the rest turns out to be as amazing as what is already there, it will be a triumph.
This is what we should have had in the UK as our Olympic legacy – real places around the country where anyone and everyone can take part in sport or physical activity, or just enjoy being outdoors, free of charge.
They have taken several former riverside piers (not the long thin kind, but the large concrete slabs that used to be part of the docks), and transformed them into open-access high quality sports places. Each one has a different provision and a different character. At each pier people can just turn up and do stuff, all for free.
On offer are soccer, hockey, basketball, volleyball, beach volleyball, roller skating, cycling. And maybe I’ve missed a few.
Then they’ve joined them together with a beautifully landscaped park perfect for running, cycling, walking, and just strolling.
There are also activities, again for anyone to turn up and join in on, for free. Take your pick – yoga, tai chi, running, kayaking, film shows, music.
Then, if that weren’t enough, they’ve added a massive outdoor picnic-party space, complete with high quality long tables and benches and permanent barbecue spaces. Anyone can just turn up (with all their stuff) and picnic – in style.
We were there on hot summer days at the weekend, and every single picnic space was taken by groups of families or friends. From lunchtime till late in the evening, people came and went. There were children’s birthday parties. There were adult gatherings. The cool boxes were giant. The food was sumptuous and smelt delicious. The groups were as diverse as Brooklyn’s people (i.e. very). And what astonished us was that we didn’t see a single drunk or disruptive person. Not one. Nor did we see evidence of vandalism or littering.
Maybe that was because there are also Rules. And people around to make sure the Rules are kept (NYPD officers, park officials). Lots of them, but we never saw any tension or unpleasantness. On the contrary – relationships between the party people and the rule-enforcers seemed relaxed and cordial.
And all this on land that could so easily have been used to provide yet more ‘luxury waterside apartments’, just like we see all along the banks of the Thames in London – keeping the waterside for the wealthy, taking it away from everyone else. I am intrigued to know more about why and how this happened, right here, yet not elsewhere.
We were there several evenings during our stay to enjoy the stunning sunsets across the river over Lower Manhattan. Watching the Staten Island ferry come and go, the leisure and work boats moving up and down the river, the helicopters and planes silhouetted against the colourful sky, listening to the NYC soundscape – we felt as though we were in a film. (Beautiful photos to follow in a post to come, courtesy of Malcolm).
But there was nothing unreal about the (locally made) ice cream we bought from the kiosk in the park. It was deliciously, perfectly, wonderfully real. And surprisingly, it took me to a local poet – Walt Whitman, who grew up and lived some of his life in Brooklyn. More of which anon.