Last week, my husband Frank and I took a little belated anniversary trip to New York City. It had been more than a decade since either of us had taken a bite out of the Big Apple, so we made up for lost time, cramming as much sightseeing and food into our mouths as we could during our three-day trip. Did I mention eating? Let’s just say, we didn’t just take a bite out of the Apple. We devoured it core and all. Maybe even the worm.
One of the main reasons we took the trip was to go to the U.S. Open Tennis Championships. Frank is a longtime tennis player and got me hooked on watching it almost immediately after we started dating. It was great. I highly recommend going, whether you are a tennis fan or not. The atmosphere is positively electric.
But when we weren’t in Flushing Meadows, I asked a good friend of mine who lives in the city to take us around for a true New York experience — to the places the natives go, not the tourists.
She had so many picks on her list for us, I think we only got through about a third of them. And many of those “must see” places she took us to did not require a high dollar ticket but were public spaces and parks.
In Washington Square Park, we walked by countless people playing chess on public chess board tables, kids playing on some of the niftiest equipment I’ve seen, folks sunning and reading on the lawn, or taking their pups to the doggie park.
We walked by lively games of ping pong being played on all-weather tables in Bryant Park. Near the ping pongers, people were reading magazines, books and newspapers they signed out from the reading cart. There were jugglers, a carousel and sharply dressed New Yorkers grabbing a Friday lunch cocktail at a park-side cafe before they knocked off early for the holiday weekend. Gorgeous London plane trees surrounded the perimeter and there was a well-manicured green space about the size of a football field in the middle.
On another day, we strolled across the Brooklyn Bridge in its pedestrian lane, as bikers sailed passed us in the biking lane. I’m not going to lie, it was quite the hike but worth it. The view was spectacular.
On the way to dinner one night for more over-eating, Frank had read about a newer park called The High Line. It had been an abandoned elevated train track, which had been scheduled for demolition, when a group of citizens banded together to save it and convert it into an “elevated walking path” overlooking the city. Eventually the city took it over, and wow, what a great space. They used the old railroad tracks to make different boxes where they planted countless little gardens. There are lounge chairs and neat little nooks and crannies to explore, not to mention even more breathtaking views of city. It was a perfect way to walk off 300 of the 3,000 calories we were about to consume.
It really struck me that many of the places our friend took us to in NYC — in a city where there are almost infinite places to be taken — were their public parks and spaces. And she was so proud of them.
“They just had the coolest art installation in this park and the city also leases out a place to this great little diner. We just have to get a cheeseburger from there,” she said.
“Oh wow. This is really cool. Let’s do it,” we said.
And the cheeseburgers were pretty rocking.
I am not penning this in hopes of becoming Lagniappe’s next travel and/or food writer, though that doesn’t seem like too bad of a gig. No, it’s just during this budget process, there has been a lot of talk about where our public funds should go.
There will be continued debates over the next few weeks over whether or not our arts groups, festivals and other non-profits should receive funding from the city. And it’s a dialogue we need and should have as a city.
But one area that does require funding but does not require discussion of said funding is our parks. We know the city is already responsible for taking care of them. And quite frankly, some of them have not received the attention they deserve for years.
And it’s a shame because many of them are being so under-utilized. And they are already gorgeous — they just need a little sprucing up, signage and some advertising making people aware they even exist.
One of our newer parks, Arlington near Brookley has a kayak launch and pier, but I wonder just wonder how many people know that? There is not even a one-sentence description on the city’s park and recs’ website about it.
There’s a boat launch at Luscher. There is a disc golf course that runs through several city parks, but it’s hard to find much about it on they city’s site. There is a walking trail at Trinity Gardens and an amphitheater that could be used for cool shows. And on and on.
A really cool advertising or social media campaign could really showcase all of the amenities the city already has to offer. Although we should probably wait until we get them all prettied up, which we really need to focus on.
But it also makes me wonder if the Cruise Terminal is just never going to be a cruise terminal again if we could do something like they did with The High Line — have ferry rides launch from there, lease out spaces to restaurants, put basketball courts or gardens or I don’t know … anything creative so OUR citizens can enjoy it instead of just looking at it and sighing.
We have always been trying to land the next big “pearl” in this town, but I think it’s time for us to focus on the “diamonds in the rough” we already have.
I really hope by the next time my friend from New York comes to visit, I can repay the favor and take her to all of our amazing “new” public spaces.
“You know, they just totally revitalized this park and added kayak rentals and leased out a kiosk to a cool popsicle stand. You’ve just got to try to the strawberry basil,” I’ll say.
“Oh wow. This is really cool. Let’s do it,” she’ll say.