paley and pal – pocket parks on 53rd

A few days ago I posted about a series of sculptures by (Albert) Paley on Park (Avenue). Well, it’s only right that I follow up that post with one about Paley Park. Because … come on! Paley on Park v. Paley Park? Golden. It’s a teensy tiny little park, and it’s not really a park in the way that Central Park is a park (id est, no room to lay out or throw a football), but it is public, although technically a POPS (privately-owned public space).

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I gotta say, it’s a very nicely done park. Midtown Manhattan is a busy, crowded, kinda soulless place. But the park is so calming, so unexpected, and so removed from all that. It’s a few steps up from street level, there’s green ivy on the side walls, some trees for shade, and a freakin’ waterfall. It’s no wonder that it’s an extremely popular place to eat lunch. Unfortunately when I visited there was some construction going on, so the pocket park was made even tinier, and I didn’t get the full effect of the waterfall.

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Paley Park is on 53rd Street, between Madison and 5th. Walk a bit further east and you’ll come across another pocket park, which in my opinion is even more impressive than Paley (although smaller and not as well designed or aesthetically pleasing). But hey, it has a chunk of the Berlin Wall. Sorry, but as impressive as the waterfall wall is, it doesn’t beat the history of THE FREAKIN’ BERLIN WALL.

This park doesn’t get as much press as Paley Park because … it’s nameless. I guess it’s the courtyard or whatever of the building 520 Madison, because people refer to the park as 520 Madison. There are five sections of the wall, and they’ve been painted by two German artists, Thierry Noir and Kiddy Citny. Not my favorite work, but how many people can say they’ve had lunch next to the Berlin Wall? And these people do it repeatedly. Amazing. New York = amazing.

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It’s also amazing to me because of how understated both of these parks are while being completely open. The whole setup is so New York. Hundreds of people walk by these parks every day – how many stop? But when you do stop and walk a few yards into that little space, you get the feeling that you’re no longer in busy Midtown, but at the same time you don’t feel cut off from the hustle and bustle that makes New York great. How many people realize that they’re walking by history? In a city like New York, there’s history and art and culture everywhere you turn, and after a while all that becomes so normal and comfortable that eating a tuna salad sandwich next to the Berlin Wall becomes commonplace. I think that’s what’s most impressive to me, that instead of confining pieces of history to a museum to be gawked at, they actually become part of the present and enrich our everyday lives.

Kudos, New York.

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