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Downtown Alliance, April 17, 2009

Downtown Dialogue

Spring Is Sprung

Despite last Wednesday’s bizarre midday snow fall, it seems like spring has finally made its way Downtown.

Lower Manhattan as we know it began in the fall, when Henryk Hudson sailed into New York harbor. It is Olde New York in winter, with holiday lights decorating the narrow, winding streets, steaming hot chocolate -- at Pan Latin, Christopher Norman Chocolates on New Street and La Maison du Chocolat -- and ice skating at the South Street Seaport, silhouetted by the masts of historic ships moored at Pier 15. And, it is the best of New York in the summer, with the 100 plus free cultural events of the River to River Festival, boats on the water, sidewalk and parkside cafés, and green lawns begging for blankets in Hudson River, Rockefeller and Battery Parks.

Lower Manhattan starts at the Battery. The oldest and largest public space in the district, Battery Park was where some of our grandparents first set foot in America. There wasn’t an organic take-out kiosk like Picnick in those days, but there was Castle Clinton, once a beer garden, then an immigration center, later an aquarium and now a national historic monument and the long-time venue for the Downtown Alliance’s summer concert series (this year with a fabulous theme that will get you up on your feet and dancing). After years of neglect, Battery Park now has lush perennial gardens, a waterfront promenade with a breath-taking view of the Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor, the indoor-outdoor restaurant Battery Gardens, an ingenious musical installation, and, under the leadership of Warrie Price and the Battery Conservancy, a bold vision for the not-so-distant future that includes a Frank Gehry playground, an innovative, aquatic–themed carousel, a bikeway connecting east to west at the tip of the island and an exciting new pavilion designed by Dutch architect Ben Van Berkel to commemorate the Hudson Quadricentennial.

As my father used to say, “spring is sprung”, and nowhere is that more evident than just north of the Battery in Bowling Green Park – New York City’s oldest public park -- where the 1,500 orange tulips Downtown Alliance volunteers planted last fall to honor the 400th anniversary of the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam are starting to sprout. The tulip planting was part of Green Around Downtown, a Downtown Alliance community-building program where neighbors, colleagues and friends – and a tourist or two – are getting their hands dirty and helping establish Lower Manhattan as the nation’s premier “green” live/work district. Our next Green Around Downtown project: planting annuals in Wall Street Park on Sunday, May 3rd from 10 am to 1 pm, with gloves, tools, snacks and take-home plants for the kids in eco-friendly, reusable grocery totes. I hope to see you there!

Lower Manhattan is going green in more ways than one. Did you know that there are more LEED-certified and “green” commercial and residential buildings and projects in our one-square mile than in anywhere else in the city? Studies show that 90% of Downtown employees either take mass transit or walk to work; I’m one of them. I also take the Downtown Alliance’s free Downtown Connection, now with a new east/west loop along the Warren and Murray Street retail corridor. There’s room on the Downtown Connection for a grocery bag or two from Whole Foods and the Greenmarket in front of City Hall Park, both on the route. Can’t find arugula? This spring, five Greenmarkets will be open for business in Lower Manhattan.

Later this spring, the Downtown Alliance, with support from Speaker Silver, is bringing back the popular Bike Around Downtown free bike rental program, now based at the South Street Seaport.  What better way to explore our community, from the water’s edge or inland?  Plan a cultural excursion, see historic buildings from a two-wheel perspective, get some exercise or just run errands, Bike Around Downtown’s adult and children’s bikes, with safety gear, will be available by pre-arrangement on our website, www.downtownny.com/bikearound, from mid-May to late September.  I’m already dreaming of grabbing picnic fixings at Fresco to Go, The Greene Grape and Financier, then going for a ride across the Brooklyn Bridge to catch Lower Manhattan’s iconic skyline the way John Roebling only imagined it. And, maybe I’ll go for a ride after lunch on June 2, the Downtown Alliance’s 11th annual Dine Around Downtown food sampling extravaganza on Chase Manhattan Plaza, which this year will feature tastings from more than 50 local restaurants and food purveyors. Not to mention a spin from the Seaport to the World Financial Center in search of spring clothes for the family.

By that time it will almost be summer.

- Liz Berger is President of the Downtown Alliance




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