Volume 23, Number 5 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | June 11 - 17, 2010
Park state of mind
Boasting beautiful weather, the summer weekends are a great time to get out and enjoy Downtown Manhattan’s beautiful parks. Not everyone is able to get away, to jump in a car or on a train and find a stretch of sand and feel the ocean breeze — but it doesn’t really matter, given the spectacular state of the parks. In fact, one must wonder, “Why even leave town when you’ve got parks like these?” In particular, the Hudson River Park is a reason to forget about the Hamptons, or Fire Island, or even Long Beach.
The park’s newly opened Chelsea section is, in a word, amazing. And people have flocked to it since its opening. Where Basketball City’s unattractive, soot-stained, white bubble once loomed, there’s now a sprawling, dazzling green lawn, which is full of people playing catch or Frisbee, or just lounging about.
The new carousel is great. What kid (or adult, for that matter) wouldn’t want to ride a cormorant, sturgeon or a red fox while Abba’s “Dancing Queen” blares from the sound system?
Moving on to the new skatepark, it’s quite an impressive facility. The Lords of Dogtown would surely approve and the skaters from Brooklyn have to be jealous. It offers real California-style skateboarding in what actually was designed to look like an empty swimming pool — which is where skateboarders got their start. It was a little disconcerting, though, to see most of these daredevils not wearing helmets, especially given that this is an unsupervised facility.
To the north of the new Chelsea section are moored historic ships — painted red and white, a beautiful sight to behold amid the park and the sparkling water. There is kayaking and a sailing facility.
The Hudson River Park’s Greenwich Village section is narrower, but still wondrous. The Charles St. pier, with its Astroturf surface, is a great spot for parents to play soccer or catch with young tots or to practice a dance move. The Christopher St. Pier is a stomping ground for gay and lesbian youth, where they can meet and mingle. At the Leroy St. dog run, pooches were keeping it cool in a dog-bone-shaped mini-pool.
And Pier 40 is now a sports mecca thanks to its courtyard field. The Downtown Day Camp has been using Pier 40’s upstairs Astroturf for its summer campers to play, since the Battery Park City Ballfields do not have enough capacity for all of them. Local soccer leagues have been practicing at Pier 40 too. It could become an even-more vital part of the park, but first needs major repairs to keep from crumbling.
Pier 25 and Pier 26 have been closed for too long, but they are set to finally open back up in the fall. There will be room for skating, basketball, field sports and a new playground. Visitors will be able to relax in small boats, water taxis and view historic ships from the dock. And the park trust will resurrect beach volleyball and miniature golf, two relics from the old Pier 25.
And let’s not forget the adjacent bike path, which was more crowded than a Tour de France peloton over Memorial Day weekend. It’s the most heavily used bike path in the entire country.
It’s hard to believe what the Lower West Side waterfront used to be and look like. Once it was a working waterfront, with views to the river blocked off by hulking pier sheds. After shipping left for New Jersey, the waterfront became desolate, its main uses car parking, cruising and prostitution. While some might feel hanging out on rundown piers had its charm, the Hudson River Park has opened up the waterfront to everyone.
A famous quote by John F. Kennedy — “We are tied to the ocean” — certainly applies to our waterfront parks, if “water” or “river” is substituted for “ocean.” Clearly, everything goes better with sparkling water and a refreshing breeze off the river — especially our parks. Who needs the Hamptons!