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Old Posted Apr 9, 2018, 6:21 PM
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Public space tour of NYC: A bunch of parks, the Oculus, libraries

Some photos from a recent winter trip to New York. A main purpose of my trip was to look at the urban design of some of NY's parks, particularly the more hardscaped sections.

Washington Square:

The most famous triumphant arch in the United States.




Hi George.




Pianos in city squares are A+




Amphitheater steps are great. Ready made seating for tons of people, and a natural performance stage.




Quieter place to sit.




Not in the park, but an interesting building. I have a side interest in contemporary ornament: Buildings that are heavily decorated, but in a modern style.




Astor Place:

A small square. I like the steps as flexible seating. Can't say I'm a fan of the fenced-off-look-but-don't-touch mulch patch behind.




The ornamental subway entrance is nice.




Union Square:

The busier south end, by the main subway entrance, is a plaza where hundreds of people linger. And again, there are popular step-seats.




Folding chess table. Looks like someone just brought it from home.




The middle section is a more typical grassy/shady park. I am keenly aware of where people choose to spend their time in this park. The ornamented flagpole is an interesting central feature.




This is fun, as long as you go clean up afterwards.




The north end has a nice entrance pavilion (unfortunately fenced off) but is otherwise just basic pavement. People mostly pass through without stopping.




Nice restriping on the street north of the park. What I'm sure was 4 or 5 car lanes 15 years ago is a lot better now.




The Oculus and WTC:

The World Trade Center train station is New York's grandest interior public space built in at least a generation. Within the transit world, this gets a lot of criticism for being way too expensive and for being primarily a shopping mall, and only secondarily a transit station.

I'm OK with spending a lot of money on great public spaces now and then. We should build grand central stations instead of Amshaks.

It does, however, feel very much more like a shopping mall than a train station. The two transit access points are at either far end of the building, and the central main hall lacks features that you'd normally associate with a train station waiting room (seats, arrival board, clock, etc). It was sort of unavoidable, since the subway and PATH lines that converge here have their tunnels on opposite sides of the building, but it does feel not-quite-right.












The subway entrance, at one end:




The PATH train entrance, at the other end:




Outside, it's a stunning piece of sculpture from far away.




But up close it suuuuucks. You are not meant to look at this from the sidewalk.






All right, all right, it's SkyscraperPage. Here's a skyscraper.




Outside, the 9/11 memorial is dramatic and sobering and an effective reminder of death. Photos don't really do the scale of it justice. For now, with 9/11 being a big event in all our lives, it feels right. In 100 years when 9/11 is no longer a living memory, I think this will feel too big and too oppressive. But New Yorkers in 2118 can deal with that however they see fit.




Other Lower Manhattan things:

Pedestrianized Wall Street and Nassau Street. Looks European except for the architecture.






The Bowling Green is notable mostly for how it's framed. If you need a curve to soften New York's endless rectilinear grid, you can come here.




To the side of the Bowling Green there's a bikeshare valet corral. We have these in DC too. The idea is that at very-high-demand locations downtown, there aren't enough docks for all the commuters. So there's a manned corral where they can let you tap out of your bike and "dock" an unlimited number during the work day.




Battery Park. Mostly notable for the views. The park itself is pretty basic.




Looking across the Hudson towards New Jersey.




Newark peaking out.




Prospect Park and Grand Army Plaza:

Prospect Park is Brooklyn's version of Central Park. At its front entrance sits Grand Army Plaza, America's foremost take on post-Civil War Union triumphalism. In the plaza sits the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, a triumphant arch grander but less famous than the one in Washington Square.




New York sees your city's confederate general statue, and raises you this.








TO THE DEFENDERS OF THE UNION




Behind the arch, Grand Army Plaza is nice enough, but a little bit of an afterthought. It probably feels more active in the summer when the fountain is on.




All right, go back through the arch to the front, cross the street, and then enter Prospect Park. Monumental columns and a pair of twin gazebos mark the entrance.






You go in the park and it's a lot like Central Park. Designed by the same person (Frederick Law Olmstead) right after Central Park, it features Olmstead's telling style of romantic landscaping, with small rolling hills, ornamented structures, and intimate groves interspersed with grand open areas.






This part, literally named the Vale of Cashmere, is tucked-away and under renovation.




Outside Prospect Park you get, y'know, Brooklyn.






... And what is surely America's most famous bike lane, the heavily-litigated Prospect Park West protected bike lane. Wealthy NIMBYs fought it for years in a ridiculous court drama.




Near Grand Army Plaza sits the Brooklyn Public Library.




It's a hoot.




Brooklyn transit stuff:

Quick digression to talk about transit.

This is a reminder that appearances notwithstanding we are in New York, not Chicago. This is the Jamaica el, above Brooklyn's Broadway.






This is the Fulton Street Transit Mall in downtown Brooklyn. It's like in downtown Denver or Minneapolis where the main street is a busway.






Bryant Park and NYPL:

OK back to Manhattan for Midtown's main square, Bryant Park. I was there on a frigid day so people were not lingering outside. But note all the things placed around the park for people to do. Kiosks, tables, ping pong, etc. Bryant Park is very intentionally a living room.
















Get your coffee and read your book:




The other half of the block that Bryant Park takes up is occupied by the famous New York Public Library. Perhaps you've seen Ghosbusters?




It's a beaux arts masterpiece.










I'm a sucker for all libraries and train stations, but especially if they're beaux arts.










Amtrak back home, from the decidedly not-beaux-arts Penn Station rat pit:


Penn Station photo from J Rendon on Flickr. All other photos in this thread are mine.


... And back home on the Union Station platforms in DC.

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  #2  
Old Posted Apr 9, 2018, 6:24 PM
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Im so envious of anyone who gets to live in NYC
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Old Posted Apr 9, 2018, 7:30 PM
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Very nice overview of some of the major hardscape open spaces.

The pavilion on the north end of Union Square is a seasonal restaurant. The city wanted it to be a year-round (partially enclosed) restaurant but NIMBYs wore down the city.

I agree the WTC station feels more "retail" than "station" at this point, but that might be somewhat ameliorated in the coming years, as three entrances have yet to open, and the actual Cortlandt Street subway station is still u/c, in the same motif as the rest of the complex.

Prospect Park is indeed very reminiscent of Central Park, though slightly less crowded and manicured, and more local. I live one block from the park, very close to your pics, and my kid is in the park practically every day.
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Old Posted Apr 9, 2018, 8:12 PM
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Amazing work! You've managed to take one of the most photographed cities on the planet and made it look fresh and exciting.
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Old Posted Apr 9, 2018, 8:55 PM
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This has me very excited about the Penn-Farley complex at Moynihan Station. Not to mention the exciting overhaul of LaGuardia. This city deserves more grand public spaces.
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Old Posted May 6, 2018, 6:34 PM
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Thank you for this tour and critique of these spaces, they are of interest to me just as much as the skyscrapers!
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Old Posted May 6, 2018, 7:35 PM
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Great tour and opinion of NYC's public urban spaces. Thanks!
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Old Posted May 6, 2018, 10:52 PM
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the entry to the oculus - how's that for a grand public entryway..
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Old Posted May 7, 2018, 3:48 AM
boulevardofdef boulevardofdef is offline
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I visited the Oculus for the first time around six months ago, and while overall I loved it, it struck me as very tacky to have such an ostentatious temple to commercialism immediately adjacent to the 9/11 memorial.

I worked near Bryant Park for years. It's strange to see it so empty. As you might guess, it's packed to the gills on nice days.

It's long been a popular thing to say that Prospect Park is superior to the better-known Central Park. I personally think that's just the Brooklyn boosterism that started in the late '90s and continues today. It's very, very difficult for any park to beat Central Park, and Prospect Park doesn't do it either.
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Old Posted May 8, 2018, 12:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by boulevardofdef View Post

It's long been a popular thing to say that Prospect Park is superior to the better-known Central Park. I personally think that's just the Brooklyn boosterism that started in the late '90s and continues today. It's very, very difficult for any park to beat Central Park, and Prospect Park doesn't do it either.
I agree, Prospect Park, while excellent, cannot top Central Park. I don't think any urban park tops (or even matches) Central Park.

Prospect Park's only advantages are 1. Less crowded/more local and 2. More woodland.
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Old Posted May 8, 2018, 2:05 PM
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Nice pictures! I don't think that Union Square is step-seating. I think it's regular steps up to the statue, that are utilized as seating. That's my take, at least.
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Old Posted May 8, 2018, 8:24 PM
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Nice!
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Old Posted May 8, 2018, 8:28 PM
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Nice shots. One of my favorite parks in NY is Greenacre Park, which is lined with waterfalls.



P.S.: Battery Park is the oldest in NY (and maybe America). It was around before the Revolution.
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Old Posted May 9, 2018, 4:43 AM
boulevardofdef boulevardofdef is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JMKeynes View Post
P.S.: Battery Park is the oldest in NY (and maybe America). It was around before the Revolution.
Actually, Boston Common is the oldest public park in America, dating to 1634.
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Old Posted May 9, 2018, 6:51 PM
mrnyc mrnyc is offline
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this reminds me that union square could really use a rethinking.

the southern end is fine. actually even the northern end is fine, with the traffic taken out, the seasonal restaurant and the popular greenmarket during the week.

however, the middle of the park is fenced off and unused. seems like a big waste of space in a very popular park. also the east and west sides could use a bit of tinkering up too. the park really needs a lot more seating, which is also a terribly rare public commodity in nyc in general.
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Old Posted Jul 5, 2018, 5:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JMKeynes View Post

P.S.: Battery Park is the oldest in NY (and maybe America). It was around before the Revolution.
While the Battery is older than Boston Common, it was originally a part of Fort Amsterdam and not a public park.
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