Best Pocket Parks in NYC
It all began in late 1964 when a group called The Park Association of New York City organized to support the formation of public green spaces or ‘vest pocket’ parks from small, unused, overgrown lots in New York City. Thomas P.F. Hoving, former Mayor John Lindsay’s future Parks Commissioner, jumped on the bandwagon and the practice of POPS (privately owned public space) had begun.
1. Paley Park
A backlit waterfall, lush ivy on the walls and a variety of comfortable seating options. What’s not to love? In fact, Paley Park (pictured above), located on 53rd Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues is listed as the Project for Public Space’s (PPS) list of the best parks in the world. William S. Paley, former Chairman of CBS, built this park and was involved in every aspect of its design. With 1800 gallons of water per minute cascading through its waterfall at the back of the space, you will find yourself transported to a place filled with peace thanks to the white noise of the waterfall that successfully drowns out the noise of the city beyond the entrance.
2. 520 Madison Avenue: Berlin Wall Remnant
Two doors east of Paley Park is this gem of a pocket park. It sits behind 520 Madison Avenue on 53rd Street. Here you can sit at one of the many moveable tables and chairs, listen to the water cascading down the side of the building to the west, but there is something different here. Directly in front of the waterfall is a piece of the Berlin Wall. Yes, that Berlin Wall. Jerry Speyer of Tishman Speyer and owner of the plaza purchased the piece from the East German government and had it installed in 1990.
3. Worldwide Plaza: Former Madison Square Garden Site
Worldwide Plaza, located at 825 8th Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets, is an impressive surprise tucked away alongside busy 8th Avenue. Built on one of the old Madison Square Garden sites, it is owned by the surrounding buildings. With both moveable and stationary seating surrounding a large fountain in the center, this park is kept very clean, comfortable and accessible to visitors. Enter from 8th Avenue and you will be treated to the glorious view of the park as you exit the circular retail arcade at the back of the building.
4. 601 Lexington Avenue: A seven-story atrium
601 Lexington Avenue building (formerly known as the Citigroup Tower) sits on massive columns that make it look as if it is floating on air. What is exciting is the seven=story atrium at the base of the building. This space, renovated in 2009, contains ample indoor and outdoor space including a sunken plaza that leads to one of the busiest subway stations in New York City. Here you can grab some coffee or a snack at one of the kiosks or many restaurants, sit and enjoy yet another waterfall, and shop in one of the shops.
5. Grand Central Plaza
Located at 622 Third Avenue at the corner of 40th Street, this park offers a bird’s eye view of the street below. It is one of the more unusual public spaces in the city because it sits on top of a two-story building, also a rarity in Midtown Manhattan. Several stationary and moveable seats scatter the space and in good weather, a coffee kiosk opens in good weather to serve reasonably-priced coffees and snacks.
6. Zuccotti Park/1 Liberty Plaza
Zuccotti Park, a square bordered by Broadway, Trinity Place, Liberty Street and Cedar Street, has been in the news thanks to the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, but do you know its history? It was formerly known as Liberty Park before it was damaged during the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. After they cleaned up the debris, it became a staging area during the recovery efforts.
Originally built by U.S. Steel in 1968 in exchange for a height bonus for their new building, One Liberty Plaza, Zuccotti Park was renamed after John Zuccotti, the chairman of Brookfield Office Properties at the time the company completed renovations of the park in 2006. Double Check by John Seward Johnson is a cool sculpture of a businessman getting ready to start his day. In the initial hours of the 9/11 attacks, people rushed to the statue thinking it was a man covered in debris and needing aid.
7. Wall Street Plaza
Wall St. Plaza at 88 Pine St. is a light, airy space, just like the building for which it was built. There are two interesting features in this special permit plaza located between Water St. and Front St. First is a two-piece abstract sculpture created by Taiwanese artist Yu Yu Yang. It looks as if a large stainless steel circle has been punched out of the large stainless steel square it sits next to. There are also two bronze initials taken from the bow of the Queen Elizabeth I on display alongside a letter and telegram grieving its loss when it caught fire in 1972 while it was being prepared to serve as a floating university in Hong Kong.
8. 180 Maiden Lane
180 Maiden Lane is an amazing indoor and outdoor space directly across the street from Wall Street Plaza. When you enter the indoor space, you are treated to several stories of glass and what looks like brass interior columns. These columns are actually painted wood in the trompe l’oeil style. Several planters filled with trees and other greenery surround moveable seating and stone ledges on which to sit. This is another location with those coveted public restrooms and art gallery space. The outdoor space has polished stone benches with trees alternating between each bench.
9. 60 Wall Street: Occupy Wall Street’s Other Home
60 Wall Street is the only other indoor space downtown that rivals the 180 Maiden Lane space. Quite understandably, this is where the organizers of Occupy Wall Street had their meetings despite it being home to Deutsche Bank, one of Wall Street’s most important players. The large indoor space is beautifully appointed and becomes the cut-through between Wall and Pine Streets for rush hour travelers heading to the Wall Street subway station, or for workers on their lunch break who want to enjoy the offerings of its various food vendors. Incidentally, there are more coveted public restrooms here along with a peaceful play to rest in between rush and lunch hours.
UPPER WEST SIDE
10. The David Rubenstein Atrium: A Garden on the Wall
The David Rubenstein Atrium at 61 West 52nd St., was renovated and renamed in 2009 after the Rubenstein’s generous $10 million gift. Formerly known as Harmony Atrium, it has a cool vertical garden that replaced a climbing wall. It’s lovely to sit by this indoor ‘garden’ when the weather outside is frightful. Add free wi-fi, a rare public restroom and ‘Wichcraft Cafe, and you’re all set. Open 8am-10pm most days.
11. 1886 Broadway
1886 Broadway, behind 30 Lincoln Plaza, is a park-like neighborhood plaza that jumps out at you as you head East on 63rd Street from Broadway. A curious feature is the physically inaccessible, but enjoyable, landscaped mound that prevents seating in the majority of the plaza, though there is some moveable seating and stationary benches. This park’s various water features make it a peaceful stop in your day if you find yourself near Lincoln Center. You get the best effect when you enter from the building from the east side of Broadway between 62nd and 63rd Street, the entrance to Lincoln Center Cinema.
12. Hidden Foundation at 200 West 60th Street
This space behind the Concerto Apartments at 200 West 60th St. on the northwest corner of Amsterdam Avenue actually sits on the north side of 59th Street. It is slightly elevated above street level by a series of convenient ramps, so it looks as if it is a private space belonging to the building behind it. The concrete benches built into the surrounding masonry and a simple water fountain in the center make it a nice stop for the mommies, nannies and nearby workers alike, and a good place to catch some shade when the building casts the park in shadow later in the day.
13. West End Towers (75 West End Ave.)
The park at West End Towers is looks like a big park, and it is, but it is also on the City’s list of POPS (privately owned public space). It takes up an entire block between 63rd and 64th Streets on the west side of West End Avenue and boasts a sculpture of a rhinoceros balancing on his nose on top of a boulder. Get close to read the story sculptor Nobi Shioya inscribed. Located across the street from West End Towers, this public space not only contains ample stationary seating, but a beautiful playground on one half and a path that begs for strolling on one of those beautiful spring New York City days.
It is of interest to note that many of the spaces on the city’s POPS list are either gated or not used as they were intended due to lack of enforcement on the City’s part. Rather than a public space with comfortable seating and other amenities, the space is turned into restaurant seating or a widened sidewalk.
Rosemary O’Brien is the author of the newly published book, Best Pocket Parks of NYC. Rosemary shares with Untapped Cities favorite park gems in three
neighborhoods of Manhattan: Upper West Side, Midtown, and the Financial