In one of the most densely-populated cities in the world, green space can be hard to find, but it’s in great demand. Stray beyond the likes of New York’s Central Park and Prospect Park and you’ll discover that the city is bursting with ingenious and creative green development projects, cleverly built in and around, and on top, of the city. Parks floating above the ground, hidden between buildings and even underground are popping up. But you just have to know where to find them.
You won’t hear about this one on the tourist trail. In fact, chances are you won’t know about it unless you’re a native New Yorker. Greenacre Park is a popular local haunt and one of Manhattan’s most peaceful gardens. Given its central location on East 51st Street, tucked between two looming buildings, you might be surprised that this urban, green refuge manages to maintain such a quiet and calming atmosphere. Credit must go to the park’s designers for that – the award-winning architects Sasaki, Dawson and DeMay, who have created a multi-level space that feels a whole lot bigger than its actual parameters (just 60 x 120 feet).
Water is the park’s most alluring feature, and is used extensively throughout the design. The centerpiece is the cascading waterfall, which also works as a sound barrier, muting the sounds of the city. Three terraces are tiered around the waterfall, each providing quiet nooks to spend an afternoon relaxing in. A canopy of honey locust trees adds to the ambiance and helps to keep the heat at bay in summer, as well as hide the surrounding buildings from view.
Categorised as a pocket park, this intimate space provides a place to sit back and relax amid a jungle of urban development.
The High Line
The Meatpacking District is now one of Manhattan’s most sought after residential areas, but in the early 1900s it was part of the city’s largest industrial sector. Even then, there was limited space in Manhattan, so engineers built a set of rail tracks elevated above street level to transport freight across the city.
Now that residential developments have replaced the former industrial areas of the city, other features of the urban landscape have adapted to the change. This includes the old elevated rail tracks, which have been transformed into an enchanting mile-long stretch of parkway that meanders above the city streets.
The first two sections of the High Line stretch from Gansevoort Street to West 30th Street and form an eclectic community space with art exhibitions, food events, kids’ activities, live performances, public tours, summer parties and educational talks on offer to all. What’s more, this raised walkway boasts standout views of the city, which can be enjoyed from any of the chaise lounges or wooden benches along the route.
The third and final section of the High Line is set to open in 2014 and will run from 30th to 34th Street.
Liz Christy Community Garden
Community gardens are now found in just about every major city in the world, but Liz Christy’s is notable for being in the vanguard of the urban gardening trend.
Back in the 1970s when urban decay blighted the city, a nonprofit environmental group was set up to add life and colour to the vacant lots and disused buildings. The Green Guerillas – with Liz Christy one of its founder – brought greenery to the dilapidated areas. At one vacant lot on the corner of Bowery and Houston Street, the group created a thriving community garden. Others started popping up around the city, and have been a staple of New York ever since.
Over the past few years, this form of gardening has experienced a boom around the world; a trend often linked to the growing popularity of eco-friendly lifestyles and economic recession. Group-run plots promote ‘green’ philosophy and provide a space for people to grow, harvest and make food for their community, in their community.
The history and impact of the Bowery and Houston Street garden makes it such an interesting place to drop in on.
Today, this urban space continues to flourish all year round, with seasonal flowers, vegetable gardens, birch trees and a pond – stocked with red-eared turtles – to sunbathe beside in the warmer months.
The Elevated Acre
Wall Street is usually the only thing that draws tourists to Manhattan’s financial district. But just around the corner at 55 Water Street, you’ll find a real hidden gem – an outdoor space, which as its name implies, is an acre of lawn nestled atop a lower-Manhattan rooftop. Squeezed in between two slick office buildings, the escalators which transport you to this rooftop oasis are notoriously hard to find, which makes it almost impossible to just stumble across.
A visit during the lunchtime rush makes for outstanding people-watching, but if you plan your visit during working hours, you’ll have plenty of space to wander the landscaped garden, survey the 50-foot light sculpture, and take in the phenomenal views of the Brooklyn Bridge and New York Harbour.
During the summer months, this unique location hosts outdoor cinema events, as well as dance performances as part of the city’s River to River Festival. Plus, it’s also a popular wedding venue.
The Lowline is still in the pipeline, but when finished it will be the world’s first subterranean park – and a phenomenal feat of technology, engineering and design. The old Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal will be transformed into a one-acre park underneath Delancey Street in New York City’s Lower East Side.
To solve the obvious problem – how to bring in natural light – solar panels, placed above ground, will transmit light to underground dishes that will reflect the rays around the space. This will allow trees and plants to grow naturally below a concrete roof. When finished, the park will incorporate cultural programmes, youth activities, and retail sites – a place for the local community to congregate.
This futuristic plan aims to give people more useable, green space in a city that has maxed out on surface level. It’s a plan that, once achieved, is likely to be adopted in major cities around the world. The only downside is that you’ll have to wait until 2018 before you can visit this one.