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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Susan Smith McKinney Steward Park

Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Steward (1847–1918) was the first licensed African-American female physician in New York State, specializing in prenatal care and childhood diseases. An obscure tract near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE), formerly called Bridge Park II, has been redesigned and renamed Susan Smith McKinney Steward Park.

susan smith mckinney steward park brooklyn new york city parks

The park lies just behind the entrance to the F train. Yet this space is what you could call a relic of the construction of the BQE, which you can see arcing by in the background.

susan smith mckinney steward park brooklyn new york city parks
susan smith mckinney steward park brooklyn new york city parks bqe
Bits of rounded brick wall remain where wooden fencing later went up, giving a weird patchwork-ruin effect.
susan smith mckinney steward park brooklyn new york city parks bqe
And a look skyward confirms that yes, you're still in good old NYC.
susan smith mckinney steward park brooklyn new york city parks bqe

(For what it's worth, Amsterdam News and other sources noted that the $7.5 million reconstruction of the park was privately funded by Watchtower, the Jehovah's Witnesses organization that has a prominent presence nearby.)

McKinney Steward was a Weeksville (Crown Heights) native who grew up on her father's Brooklyn pig farm. (There are no more pig farms in Brooklyn, although I wouldn't be surprised if some hipster enterprise in Red Hook was keeping a live pig somewhere out back.)

susan smith mckinney steward park brooklyn new york city parks bqe

The pioneering physician owned a practice from 1870 to 1895, with locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan. According to the Brooklyn Public Library, practicing medicine for her wasn't just about physical heath, "It was a means by which she could further elevate and impact the community she loved and fight for racial inclusion and women’s rights. During her life she founded clinics, clubs and suffragette groups."

McKinney Steward spent her later years as a faculty member and resident physician at Wilberforce University in Xenia, Ohio. But upon her death at age 71 she was buried back in Brooklyn, in Green-Wood Cemetery. W.E.B. Dubois delivered the eulogy.

She is an obvious choice for honoring and remembering with a park. To be honest, though, there's not really a whole lot in this one. I'm all for more safe places for kids to play outside...

susan smith mckinney steward park brooklyn new york city parks

...but what the neighborhood – which includes much public housing – needs more than a field of artificial turf is tree coverage. Here you find trees mostly on the fringes.

susan smith mckinney steward park brooklyn new york city parks

It wasn't clear from my reading how much of the planned reconstruction has already taken place. But the place is well manicured and looks finished. In two visits, one on a warm late-summer morning, the other on a pleasant weekend in April, only a few locals were taking advantage.

susan smith mckinney steward park brooklyn new york city parks bqe
Sidle around a bend, though, and here's a surprise – a playground with giant whimsical overhanging leaf-things in the foreground.
susan smith mckinney steward park brooklyn new york city parks

Incidentally, Kaitlyn Greenidge's 2021 novel Libertie – designated variously a "notable" book, a "must read" and "best historical fiction" by the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Time – was inspired in part by the life of McKinney Steward.

The Times called the book "a feat of monumental thematic imagination."

I can't say the same for Susan Smith McKinney Steward Park. But there you have it. And in the next post, we venture under the BQE to find another little park named after another notable female African American New Yorker.

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All photos except McKinney Steward portrait © Oren Hope

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Riverside Park South

It's been quite some time since we visited Riverside Park for this blog, and we never actually hit the section called Riverside Park South. It has been developed quite a bit in recent years anyway, in parallel with neighborhoods on Midtown's western fringe.

Hudson River Park hits its northernmost border at 59th Street or thereabouts. Walk past the huge Sanitation Department pier at 59th and you enter Riverside Park South.

riverside park south manhattan new york city parks
Looking south at the sanitation pier

Several blocks further north, Mrs. Odyssey takes a break.

riverside park south manhattan new york city parks
riverside park south manhattan new york city parks
Looking north along Riverside Park South
riverside park south manhattan new york city parks
Looking north along Riverside Park South

Public art stands out in this landscape, including two new sculptures.

riverside park south manhattan new york city parks
"Life Dance" by Susan Markowitz Meredith

The next photo, of Helen Draves' Hope, doesn't do the ugly thing full justice because you can't see the birds evolving from the small surgical masks that comprise the monstrous giant surgical mask. (There's a better photo at the link in the previous paragraph.) Not surprisingly, the piece is a reflection on the pandemic.

riverside park south manhattan new york city parks
"Hope" by Helen Draves

The most striking piece of public art here is Private Passage, a giant wine bottle laid on its side. Inside is a representation of a stateroom from the Queen Mary.

In the background you can see the equally striking, pyramidal Via 57 West development.

riverside park south manhattan new york city parks private passage

Generally speaking, though, I find the hand of humankind can't match the aesthetic splendor of nature. (Not that this gigantic willow tree wasn't planted by human hands, but you get the point.)

riverside park south manhattan new york city parks

Another majestic willow view shows another side of the conundrum that is New York City today. In this shot you see evidence of the terrible homeless problem we're experiencing in the era of Mayor Eric Adams and the migrant crisis.

riverside park south manhattan new york city parks

On a more positive note, I love when waterfront designers build walkways over the river.

riverside park south manhattan new york city parks

This one reminds me of West Harlem Piers Park, further north along the very same riverside.

But then, as everywhere along the more than 500 miles (!) of New York City waterfront, we also see remains of what went before.

riverside park south manhattan new york city parks

Something else that went before – and now has come to a complete stop – is a retired 60-year-old locomotive, the focus of a play area within the park. It's being refurbished and almost completely obscured at present, so I have no photo, but you can have a peek via Atlas Obscura.

And so Mrs. Odyssey and friends say goodbye for now from from Riverside Park South.

riverside park south manhattan new york city parks
park odyssey 300

All photos © Oren Hope

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Starlight Park

Starlight Park, an essential part of the slowly-but-surely developing Bronx River Greenway, officially opened in the spring of 2023 after 20-plus years of work. The result is a unique park of 13 acres hugging both sides of the Bronx River between Concrete Plant Park and the Bronx Zoo.

Starlight Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway

Starlight Park inherits its whimsical name from an early-20th-century amusement park that use to reside here. The Bowery Boys write that Starlight Amusement Park sounds like it was "a hyper, dizzying place" with "an enormous swimming pool with faux rock features, a nearby roller coaster" (where a terrible accident occurred in 1922), and "Coney Island-esque games and rides, boat rides, and outdoor performances by opera singers and greased up wrestlers."

Picture that. Opera singers and greased-up wrestlers. Now that's entertainment!

Today's park is a colorful mix, with river views, retired infrastructure, sports and boating facilities, and the Bronx River Alliance headquarters.

Starlight Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway
Starlight Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway
Starlight Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway
Starlight Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway
Starlight Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway

The site preserves relics of a time, decades ago, when the Bronx River was an active route for transporting goods. A disused railroad bridge still stands.

Starlight Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway
Starlight Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway

Traversing the park you cross the river more than once on well-preserved, cheery-blue bridges.

Starlight Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway
Starlight Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway

These bridges, according to a city press release, "help to link the park to surrounding communities, one going over the Bronx River itself just north of Westchester Avenue and one going over railroad tracks owned by Amtrak at E. 172 Street. New York State DOT built one new bridge spanning the river as part of the creation of Sheridan Boulevard, completed in 2019."

Sheridan Boulevard, incidentally, which runs alongside Starlight Park, is New York State Route 895 – "the highest-numbered signed state route in New York," per East Coast Roads. A few years ago this grade-level road replaced the elevated Sheridan Expressway, the onetime Interstate 895 – another boon to the people of the Bronx.

The Bronx Times report on the completion of the conversion, dated Dec. 20, 2019, noted: "Other improvements included in the project are transforming the currently overgrown Garrison Park and building a shared use path between Concrete Plant Park and Garrison Park."

Done and done.

Concrete Plant Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway
In the (redundantly named) "Edible Food Garden" at Concrete Plant Park. This didn't exist on our first visit back in 2016.

Views of the river reveal both its prettied-up stretches and its grimy history. In some spots, you could really think you're in the wild.

Starlight Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway
Starlight Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway

In others, not so much.

Starlight Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway
Starlight Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway

The Bronx River Greenway is by no means a contiguous whole. Not yet.

Starlight Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway
Starlight Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway

The Greenway project has been a collaboration among city agencies: Parks, Transportation, and the Department of Design and Construction. Not to mention the aforementioned Bronx River Alliance. New York State's ongoing work on the roads and highways is playing a part too. And all this work is paying off. Starlight Park and the other completed sections are already a big positive for the surrounding Bronx neighborhoods.

Starlight Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway

To this point the parks include, according to the city press release, "140 new trees and close to 12,000 new shrubs to support the restoration of the Bronx River shoreline, including wetlands that improve water quality in the river and help to curtail erosion." We do love our wetlands here at Park Odyssey.

Starlight Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway

They've also installed new retaining walls and lighting, a dog run, "4,000 feet of new pathway" and "drainage and electrical upgrades." The press release notes that 50,000 tons of soil has been "removed and replaced to promote ecological health." That's a helluva lot of soil. I wonder where they put the old dirt.

A final note: There's another little park called West Farms Rapids Park at the north end of Starlight, completed in 2020. We somehow missed it on this walk, although we may have traversed this spot on a Bronx River walking and canoeing adventure back in 2019, which also took us on something called the Mitsubishi Riverwalk, which, if it still exists, is part of the Bronx Zoo.

The moral, as if it needed repeating: There's always something more to explore.

park odyssey 300

All photos © Oren Hope

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Garrison Park

Never forgetting the quest that launched this blog project 13 years ago, I continue to seek to visit every park in New York City. And although there have been a few exceptions, each park gets its own blog post. In that spirit, I give you Garrison Park.

Garrison Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway

Part of the in-progress Bronx River Greenway, a ribbon of parkland that's slowly blossoming along the rejuvenated Bronx River, Garrison itself is little more than a stretch of bike and walking path dangling like a tail off the industrially picturesque Concrete Plant Park. But when I discovered the latter in 2016, it was something of an oasis.

Concrete Plant Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway
Concrete Plant Park, 2023

Concrete Plant Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway
Looking north from Concrete Plant Park

Today, Concrete Plant Park continues as Garrison Park to the south, and to the north links up with a tiny entity called West Farms Rapids (formerly Bronx River Park) and then the very substantial new Starlight Park.

Alongside these parks runs a train track. Following it south on the map, it curves away from the river and appears to end up at Hunts Point. The fact that you can just walk across it here suggests that it's no longer in use, but I don't know that for sure.

Garrison Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway

The park also passes under the Bruckner Expressway.

Garrison Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway

Though it's mostly a pathway, Garrison Park does offer benches for enjoying riparian breezes and inner-city quiet.

Garrison Park, Bronx, New York City parks, Bronx River Greenway

Next up: Starlight Park

park odyssey 300

All photos © Oren Hope