By Kelly Rush
Among the cracks in the pavement, beyond terraced rows of glass and rebar, sunshine, speckled more from the patterns of buildings than from trees, finds its way to open spaces. A dirt path meanders through a miniature forest in one such space that is surrounded on all sides by steel; in another a black metal staircase that rises to nowhere overlooks a promenade on the Hudson River.
Such little pockets of vista and bench where tired New Yorkers can sit and enjoy a view or a latte abound in Lower Manhattan. These are spots in which the passerby was meant to linger, not just a doorway or a stoop. The naturalist John Muir said, “Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play and pray, where nature heals and gives strength to body and soul alike.” Our forest or marsh or pond may be the size of a condo and hold as much water as a bathtub and sprout just a handful of reeds, but they exist, and in greater numbers here than many might imagine.
From river to river, from Rockefeller Park to the Battery, I have compiled a list of the outdoor spaces in Lower Manhattan where one can spend a day or a minute without a doorman requesting that you take your hot dog and stop blocking the back door no one comes out of anyway.
The park features almost two dozen memorials, including the Korean War, Coast Guard and Salvation Army memorials, in addition to rows of manicured walking paths, benches everywhere you look, ferries to the Statue of Liberty, and grassy patches meant for napping.
Peter Minuit Plaza: South Ferry Terminal (Free WiFi)
This public space, designed by Gail Wittwer-Laird, is a unique combination of transportation hub (travelers can get on the Staten Island Ferry, subway and buses) eatery, gardens and walking paths. Stop by the Downtown Alliance’s information kiosk and grab a map or, if you know the area as well as our guides, choose your own path.
Bowling Green Park: Broadway and Beaver Street (Free WiFi)
Situated just south of the Wall Street Bull, Bowling Green Park is a resting stop in the middle of two highly-trafficked roads. The space features circular gardens, a fountain and benches surrounding the park.
City Hall Park: 52 Chambers Street (Free WiFi)
A favorite haunt of politicians as well as nannies and tourists, City Hall Park meanders through the northern boundary of our district. You’re as likely to see a child throw a toy in the fountain as a City Hall regular anxiously discussing the latest council meeting.
DeLury Square: Fulton Street between Ryders Alley and Gold Street
Named after John DeLury Sr., who founded Local 831 of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association in 1956, this square features a pond, tall granite rocks and benches for those who wish to sit and stay awhile.
East River Waterfront Esplanade:
The esplanade features artfully landscaped gardens, in full bloom at the moment, that follow the length of the river. A dog run is a popular destination with Lower Manhattan pooches and the walkway includes plenty of wood benches, single and in groups.
Elevated Acre Plaza: 55 Water Street (Free WiFi)
This plaza feels like a secret park in the middle of the city—one story off the ground, away from it all, yet easy to find if you know where to look. Just walk up a flight of stairs or take the escalator and you’ll be in the perfect spot to sit and eat lunch above the reach of taxis and the ever flowing mob of pedestrians.
Hudson River Esplanade:
Fish, stroll, run at sunset or walk the dog. The esplanade is loved by many people for many different reasons. The spot in the photo above is just west of the Jewish Heritage Museum.
Imagination Playground: Burling Slip-John Street
A few steps from the Seaport lies Imagination Playground, a safe and innovative space for children to play with giant foamy blocks, run through sprinklers or climb a tower. Because kids need places to chill out, too.
Louise Nevelson Plaza: 84 William Street (Free WiFi)
Black steel sculptures dominate the space in this triangular plaza at Liberty Street, Maiden Lane and William Street. A major renovation recently was completed here, including widening the area, adding more greenery and installing new seating.
Nelson A. Rockefeller, Jr. Park:
Meandering along the Hudson is Rockefeller Park, a long strip of greenery where visitors can do everything from play a game of pool to shoot hoops at a basketball court.
Pearl Street Playground: Pearl Street between Fulton and Beekman streets
The renovated playground features new play equipment, a water fountain, spray shower (which will be used heavily on weeks like this) and fence. The playground is within sight of the South Street Seaport and nearby piers.
The newly unveiled and rehabbed Pier 15 features a roof deck with stunning 360-degree-views of the city, and still has attractions yet to be revealed, including a new restaurant coming sometime in the near future. The Pier, just south of the Seaport, even has lounge chairs on which you can sun yourself or watch ships pass on the East River.
Plaza at 59 Maiden Lane: (Free WiFi)
I like to call this plaza “Zeytuna Plaza,” but whatever you call it, it’s still a great spot to enjoy the sound of multiple fountains surrounded by vibrant flowers and a plethora of nearby food options if you want to eat on a bench in the sunshine.
Queen Elizabeth II Garden: Hanover Square Park (Free WiFi)
Situated a few blocks from Water Street in Hanover Square, this lush garden is a little slice of English countryside in a city known more for concrete than flowers. The curvilinear stone seating runs throughout and provides a frame for trees, flowers and shrubs.
Rector Park: South End Avenue and Rector Street
Battery Park City doesn’t lack for grassy enclaves with benches. Yet another quiet spot that local residents and workers take advantage of on a daily basis, this park is steps from the Hudson River Esplanade.
Robert F. Wagner Park:
This park begins just north of where Battery Park ends and contains as many great places to sunbathe as sit. Several smaller alcoves create variety in the space. I discover a new corner to enjoy every time I come here.
While technically part of the Hudson River Esplanade, I love this little corner by the water in Battery Park City that features shoreline seating and a small park with its own little walking path.
South Street Seaport: (Free WiFi)
From the pier to the lighthouse, the Seaport has a lot going on. This is the place to visit if you are not afraid of tour buses and want to enjoy a wonderful view of the East River or avoid work while relaxing on a bench.
Stone Street: (Free WiFi)
When the weather warms up, Stone Street becomes an even more popular destination than usual. Outdoor seating is plentiful for those who want to sip a beer, eat a meal or hang out on the cobble stone streets.
Teardrop Park is my current favorite spot in Lower Manhattan. I find myself drawn to different leafy corners throughout the year, and this space at the advent of summer has become my go-to. The park manages to feel secluded and quiet, perhaps because it’s surrounded on all sides by tall buildings in Battery Park City, which is far enough away from heavy traffic to feel almost remote. A granite wall rises toward the sky at the center of the park, and a slide and sandbox are often enjoyed by the younger set.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza: (Free WiFi)
This plaza’s seating is provided mainly around two tall walls on which are inscribed actual letters written from Vietnam Veterans to friends, lovers and family members.
Wall Street Park (Mannahatta Park):
The site of the Downtown Alliance’s annual Spring Community Day, Wall Street Park this past May was filled with volunteers who helped plant flowers and make this little pocket at the end of Wall Street beautiful.
Zuccotti Park: Broadway and Liberty Street
This site has been home to everything from pigeons to protests, but as we swing into summer, the park is as calm as any space at Broadway and Liberty Street could be. Trees provide a canopy of shade for weary shoppers, many of whom can be seen carrying bags from Century 21, which sits just across the park.
Click HERE to see more photos of open public spaces in Lower Manhattan.