The world knows and loves Central Park–almost 600 acres of man made, exquisite planning. Countless photos and videos, poems, love letters–memories for our visitors and us. Add to this our other grand parks and gardens scattered through the five boroughs, and our skyscraper-city shows its softer side.
But, this New Yorker–blogger often reminds friends–and everyone who will stop and listen–that scattered throughout the city are the minuscule (or a bit bigger) vest pocket parks that add heart to your vision and memory. Comfortable seating and greenery are often in a setting of waterfalls and sculpture or evolving artwork. For many of us, personal memories are attached to these gems, whether in fondness or heartbreak. (Since 9/11, silent heartbreaking markers of that unimaginable day can sometimes be found here.) For your New York visit, be sure to highlight some of these sweet green spaces.
And a worthwhile book describes 40 small parks.
MANHATTAN boasts many vest pocket parks…and in all neighborhoods, especially Downtown, Midtown and the Upper West Side. Not in a perfect geographical order are:
- At 55 Water Street is The Elevated Acre in the Financial District. Stunning East River and Brooklyn Bridge views add to the special pleasure, as well as summer’s free movie nights.
- Liberty Park is located near the 9/11 Museum, Albany and Greenwich streets, open every day. Games, beautiful plantings–an outdoor delight.
- St. Luke in the Fields Church in Greenwich Village can stun the visitor in spring, when it seems that every planting and tree is in full bloom. This historic corner of the West Village is alone worthy of a visit.
- Battery Park City has several unexpected miniparks along the great stretch of the promenade. Both Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side surprise visitors with interesting pocket parks, often with sculpture, memorials and historical plaques. Two are Abingdon Square and Jackson Square Park
- The Creative Little Garden in the East Village seems out of a children’s much-loved story: Magic!
- The Liz Christy Garden on the Lower East Side is the oldest of our tiny parks.
- There’s Williamson Park and Sutton Place, with the mysterious Wild Boar statue, on the far East Side.
- Manhattan Plaza Park is a shady pocket park on West 43rd Street. Its wooden benches and comfortable seating ledges are a nice place to stop on a warm day. A “roaring” gem in Midtown East is Paley Park and way east, Holy Family Catholic Church, next to the Japan Society, on East 47th Street, brings a small statue of the Virgin Mary keeping quiet watch over the garden with fountain and brook.
- The Ford Foundation atrium park quietly invites all into its glass enclosed green haven on East 43rd Street. Close to this institution is the community of Turtle Bay, 42nd Street near the East River. Apartment homes surrounded by lush plantings, fountains and statues. The United Nations is very close by, and a lovely garden leads strollers along the East River embankment.
- Greenacre Park Stunning! Falling water drowns out the cacophony of Midtown and begs your visit.
- Moving west to 45th between, 5th and 6th, is Marsh & McLennan Plaza where that company pays tribute to their employees who perished on 9/11.
Further uptown, still on the East Side, find severalworthwhile green stops:
- Ruppert Park in another era was the site of one of the city’s major breweries.
- Along the East River is Carl Schurz Park, certainly grander than a vest pocket park, but has that small-park feeling. There, too, is our Mayor’s home, Gracie Mansion.
Come over to the West Side, uptown…and even further uptown!
In and out of the brownstone-housed side streets are small gardens that the street’s occupants raised funds for and now support with further donations and loving care. Some are noted here, the true gem among them being the Westside Community Garden spanning West 89th-90th Street, near Columbus Avenue. The annual Tulip Festival in mid-April draws visitors from everywhere. As with so many of these small parks, loving and tireless volunteers create and maintain the greenswards, including constant fund-raising.
- Straus Park Tiny, so moving in its history of this loving couple who were passengers on the Titanic and chose to remain together until their last moment.
- Septuagesimo Uno Park is tiny-tiny.
- The Lotus Garden (near Broadway) is more than special: upstairs above a garage, only open on weekends in warmer months–but worth the trouble–stunning, tended with much love.
- The gardens of Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine A garden really far too big for vest pocket designation, it is still comparatively small scale: so beautiful–historic buildings–the peacocks and tiny biblical garden. One is transported to an older England, as befits this High Episcopalian Church.
Sakura Park borders the Hudson River, “way north,” Riverside Park and 122nd Street. Read the interesting history of this gifted arbor for New York City.
- The Chinese Scholars Garden is a unique attraction that adds an enlightening dimension to our understanding of life in ancient China. The quiet beauty never fails to delight the visitor. Part of Snug Harbor, easily reached from the Staten Island Ferry landing.
- Staten Island Greenbelt seems to be the Adirondacks of the five boroughs. This 2,800-acre expanse is home to mature forests, wetlands, meadows, wildlife, and over 35-miles of marked hiking trail. Way to big to be designated “vest pocket,” but the borough is very proud to welcome visitors for hiking and being one with nature.
- The Wyckoff House Museum is NYC’s oldest house, preserved and surrounded by a small, beautiful parkland. Several subway lines are close, best to check the timing of hours/days open.
- The Old Stone House and Washington Park will be a visit-Brooklyn pleasure, with historical importance relating to the Battle of Brooklyn during the Revolutionary War–the biggest battle of the fight for independence.
Brooklyn Bridge Park is really toooo big to be called a pocket park…but there it is! So beautiful!
- A modest sized botanical garden, The Narrows Botanical Garden, staffed by volunteers, borders the Narrows waterway in Bay Ridge and has earned important gardening awards.
The Queens Farm and Garden features a museum worth a visit, two acres in size, jumps out of the vest-pocket domain, but it is still small enough to call out to our wanderer-visitors
- While other small parks exist in Queens, they can be scattered throughout this vast borough, far from most visitor points. There are beautiful greenways along the riverfronts of Queens. Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City has highlight exhibits
- The small garden area within the Isamu Noguchi museum is a gem.
An interesting outcome of the many gentrification projects in this very large borough is the inclusion of delightful tiny parks. This year of 2017 brings many articles on the gentrification begun and continuing in the borough, with a positive growth in visitors from across the USA and overseas. Lots to do still, but interesting in these early years. (Some good eats, too!)
For this writing, there is leaving out the grand parks of the Bronx (Van Cortlandt, Crotona, St. Mary’s, Pelham Bay, the Botanical Gardens, Fresh Kills, Bronx River Park) for a few small gems of interest scattered through the borough:
- Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum and Park, a far north location. The visitor can add City Island for a seafood dinner.
- Seton Falls Park also has its beautiful, natural spot in the more-north area of the Bronx, a place for soothing hikes and forgetting the city for a while.
- Friends of Brook Park Here is a quirky green space run by a dedicated group of gardeners and avid horticulturalists from the area. Their website is being developed and explains their start, from a coop with 15 chickens to arts and culture events. The park is a true community gathering place.
I must stop here….
In many of our lower income neighborhoods, residents create these tiny green corners out of almost nothing–bricks, wooden boxes, little statues of just about everything; religious relics and, perhaps, African and Caribbean statues–toys, benches…all that can be gathered to make a sad, unwanted plot into a really precious community pocket garden. Socialization reigns here, with perhaps a quiet game of dominoes or grandmothers soothing children all together. Unfortunately, community housing needs often take over and destroy these tiny patches of lovely calm.