Sunday, July 17, 2011

Park life

As a Londoner I feel particularly well equipped to comment on parks. London has absolutely nailed it, from the formal gardens of Regent's Park and the contained gorgeousness of St James Park, to rambling Hampstead Heath and the vast frisbee field of Hyde Park. And then there are all those pretty little garden squares, little hankerchiefs of green bordered by grand terraces. Yup, we've got great parks in spades.

You could be forgiven for thinking that New York has just the one park. You know, that big one in the middle.

Central Park is brilliantly conceived and perfectly executed. It's so bold to have carved out this huge block in the middle of Manhattan to be a great big park. On photos like the one above it looks to me like the mansions and towerblocks which hem it in are about to march in and take it over. Fortunately the borders are secure and what goes on inside is protected. Thank goodness, for it is a fabulous park. I love the gently curving paths, the quaint redundant bridges, and the clever zoning - from the shady delights of Strawberry Fields to the softball fields of the Great Lawn.

The only small flaw is the fact that drinking in public is illegal, making civilised picnics with a bottle of rose a subversive act. Londoners would never stand for it. Actually, some New Yorkers don't either. Apparently there is a secret margarita guy who roams Sheeps Meadow surreptitously squeezing lime and serving margaritas to those who dare.

And that's not all. New York has some great supplementary parks too. I like the Hudson River Park which borders the West side of Manhattan. Sure, half of it is a thin path for runners which passes rubbish processing sites and car pounds. But the rest is a lovely chain of riverside plazas, green piers, tennis courts and skate parks. And let's not forget those pretty, European style garden squares of Bryant and Madison Parks. Or the elegant High Line.

Plenty of these parks are dog free, and all are smoke free. Which as someone who doesn't like dog poo or smoke, I appreciate. Also, brilliantly, most of the kids ones have sprinklers - essential in the summer.

So yes, New York's parks are ace.

But... a word of advice. Putting a few railings up and installing a bench does not a park make.
Balsley Park: a case in point. Not every empty square of land merits park status. Look at the size of it:

It's a tenth of a block! There's a CVS two blocks away which is bigger! In any other sane city this would be an ignored scrap of wasteland. Perhaps an impromptu carpark, or a place for a couple of skips (as in dumpsters) to live. But here in New York, people are so pathetically grateful to have somewhere to sit outside their rabbit hutch that they put a fence around it and call it a park.

My advice? Stick to what you're good at New York: the grandiose, ambitious parks. The small friendly stuff, I'm afraid it just isn't you.


  1. that's not a park - it's central yard. my view is maybe coloured by the fact that it is the finish of the ny marathon so i wasn't really in a good mood the last couple of times i visited seeing that my knees were falling apart and my nipples were bleeding.

  2. yup, more a yard than a park, but I'm starting to admire the NY pluck and eff you attitude when it comes to parks... 'You want parks, go to central Park'. Or... 'go big or get out' as the Euro ( would have it.