Tiny oases of greenery in the concrete jungle are celebrated in this sprightly guidebook, the first of a planned series.
Recalling her salad days as an actress searching for that most precious of New York commodities—a place where you can sit down without paying—novelist O’Brien (First Saturday, 2012, etc.) offers this compendium of 56 “privately owned public spaces” and city parks in Manhattan, from Midtown on south. It doesn’t take much to make a park in those environs: Take a vacant lot or a recess bordering a sidewalk, add a few planters with shrubs, some chairs and furniture—you’ve got Gotham’s answer to Yellowstone. Some of these are little more than places to rest one’s feet during a shopping binge after grabbing a bite from a sidewalk vendor, but many manage to conjure a sheltering, distinctive space from cramped dimensions. O’Brien seeks out those that feature verdant foliage and clever landscaping, sculpture and artworks that add visual interest, dramatic views of the cityscape, a glimmer of a reflecting pool or a waterfall to mask the roar of city noise. Some will surprise even longtime New Yorkers: Abingdon Square, a twisty lane shaded by tall trees in Greenwich Village, designed by Calvert Vaux with his usual romanticism; Eighth Avenue’s One Worldwide Plaza, a broad yet intimate expanse centered on a fountain, recalling an Old World piazza; Christies’ Garden, an assemblage of ivy-covered walls, cafe tables and art from the auction house’s collection, with an air of Parisian urbanity; 60 Wall St., an enclosed atrium (why can’t a park be indoors?) that, with its palm trees, Oriental decor and food stalls, makes for an enchanting caravanserai; Park Avenue’s minute Ascot Plaza, sporting New York’s best historical inscription—“On this site in 1897, nothing happened.” O’Brien’s brief, breezy text is filled with snippets of intriguing lore, crucial info on restroom access and eating opportunities, and clear directions (alas, no maps). Vivid color photos by Mario Burger, Nicholas Alfonso and others add still more enticement.
A handy guide to some of New York’s hidden gems of public space that will delight tourists and natives alike.