We’ve all heard the expression “heart of the city” – but did you know about the lungs of the city? Urban life is dense and congested. It demands breathing spaces – lakes, marshes, wooded areas.
New York is known for being gritty and bustling, but part of what makes it eminently livable nonetheless is its abundance of greenspace, which keeps the city and its famously volatile residents ventilated.
And I don’t mean just the big iconic commons like Central Park or Riverside Park or even the smaller but just as iconic ones like Washington Square, Union Square, or Bryant Park. I’m talking about the tiny slivers of green that dot the entire expanse of Manhattan Island. A triangular patch of grass here. A semicircle of shrubs surrounding a fountain there. An artificial waterfall wedged between the Sutton Place Synagogue and an office building on East 51st Street, with a few trees shading some metal tables and chairs where people from midtown firms like to come and eat their lunch, sip a late afternoon Frappuccino, or just take a moment out of their busy lives to absorb the soothing sounds of softly tumbling water. There’s even a little concession stand onsite selling light refreshments.
Some of the spaces are so small that people don’t even realize they have names! The waterfall area I just described? It’s called Greenacre Park. Most regular users of the place couldn’t tell you! I confess I didn’t know it until today.
Another of my favorites, Greeley Square, is essentially a small triangle (or maybe a trapezoid) formed by Broadway cutting diagonally over the Sixth Avenue block between 32nd and 33rd streets. It’s sort of the tail-end of the much more famous Herald Square – one of the world’s preeminent shopping districts – just a block to the north. But tiny as it is, Greeley Square manages to be a lush little oasis for busy shoppers, tourists, and New Yorkers. It’s comfortably tree-lined and features a food kiosk and outdoor-café style tables. An earnest and slightly growling stone image of Horace Greeley (the late great publisher of the late great New York Tribune) looks on, mostly unnoticed.
Two views of Greeley Square, Manhattan. Photos by Koli Mitra