“Last night a D.J. saved my life,” goes the song. “Yesterday a pocket park saved my life” doesn’t have quite the same lyrical ring. But when you work within the skyscrapers of Midtown Manhattan, or simply spend enough time walking in their shadows, you become grateful for the peace and greenery provided by these tiny parks. What follows are five of the most delightful. By Jessica Allen.
A few years ago, Greenacre Park was named one of the best parks in the world by Project for Public Spaces, joining Central Park and Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, among others. Not bad for a park that’s only 60 feet by 120 feet. The centerpiece is a 25-foot waterfall that utterly drowns out the traffic and street noise. A small outpost of Birdbath Neighborhood Green Bakery serves treats, while a custodian makes sure people follow the rules, including no feet on seats and no photos.
Like a lot of Manhattan’s pocket parks, the one next door to the Connaught Tower apartment building could be classified as “privately owned public space.” That is, the city doesn’t maintain the park, but the land’s owners allow in people who don’t live or work in the building. On sunny afternoons, this little idyl is full of office workers, kids and nannies, construction workers, and folks waiting for the India Visa Center across 53rd Street to open.
Some tables, some chairs, a waterfall—this park would be pleasant yet fairly unremarkable but for the 20-foot-high, several-thousand-pound hunk of Berlin Wall plopped up on the west side. Yes, the real Berlin Wall. Painted by German artists Thierry Noir and Kiddy Citny in 1985, this portion of the wall was once situated along the Waldemarstrasse. Today it stands as a reminder of how history works: what once seemed permanent or impenetrable may, over time, prove to be just another really cool-looking piece of art.
It’s one thing to sit next to rushing water; quite another to actually walk through it. Part of the McGraw-Hill Building, a little plaza connects 48th to 49th Street. But to get from one street to the other, you’ll have to enter a plexiglas tunnel as water plunges, pours, and splashes around you. No raincoats required, though, as the plexiglas does the trick. Honestly. You will, however, need some patience, as the mouth of either end of the tunnel serves as a popular photo opp.
“Pocket park” might be pushing it as a description for the Tudor City Greens. “Magical oasis” might be a more apt way of describing these two parks, accessible via twin staircases on either side of East 42nd Street, and offering great views of the United Nations and Tudor City, a charming residential complex. An extremely active group of volunteers maintains the two parks and hosts various events, including the annual art show and several planting and clean-up days. And maintain them they do, with pebble-strewn paths, fauna, foliage, and flowers, lots and lots of flowers.