Lungs of the city

As fascinating as New York City can be with its outstanding architecture, abundant shopping, and incomparable entertainment, it can be incredibly draining on the psyche with its constant noise, concrete canyons, and hordes of people. That’s when parks come into their own, providing relief with spaces open to the sky, green oxygenating foliage, and natural sounds, like birdsong and flowing water.

The city’s largest park is Central Park, situated right in the middle of the jam-packed island of Manhattan. It’s a bit of a miracle that it’s there at all, with the amount of space given over to trees, paths, water, and grass. So a big round of applause has to go to landscape architect Frederick Law Olsmstead for his foresight in designing a park for the people in the nineteenth century (and who is said to have coined the phrase “lungs of the city”).

There are still lots of people here, but the park doesn’t seem as crowded as the elbow-jostling claustrophobia of the city sidewalks. Maybe it’s the natural elements that make people slow down and breathe, taking life at a slower pace as they stroll along the winding paths, taking a break on one of the many benches, or being soothed by the waters of the lake or fountains. Whatever it is, life in New York City wouldn’t be as nice without this fabulous park.

One of the city’s smallest parks is Paley Park on 53rd Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues. It’s called a “pocket park” because it is the size of a building lot. It may not seem like much, but the ceiling of foliage and ivied walls soften the harsh concrete, and the flowing water wall at the far end of the lot drowns out the city noises, providing a mini oasis in the midst of a bustling city.

Designed in the late 1960s, Paley Park was heralded as the way of the future for big cities, prophesying the emergence of small urban parks on every block. Alas, it never happened, probably because of the incredible cost of real estate in New York City. As it is, although the park is open to the public, it is privately owned and maintained by the William S. Paley Foundation. Hopefully, the Foundation will continue to believe in its value and provide a bit of breathing space for New Yorkers for years to come.