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Sunday, May 5, 2024

Paseo Park: A Linear Park in the Making, and Travers Park

Jackson Heights is one of the city's most lively and interesting neighborhoods, reputed to be one of the most diverse places in the world. Some have counted over 160 languages spoken in this section of Queens.

What Jackson Heights doesn't have is a park, or not much of one anyway. Alliance for Paseo Park is trying to change that by transforming a 26-block, mile-plus stretch of 34th Avenue into a linear park. We paid a visit recently to see how it's coming along.

So, is Paseo Park closed to automobile traffic?

Paseo Park, Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City parks

Best answer I have right now: Yes and no. No and yes.

Paseo Park, Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City parks
Paseo Park, Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City parks

The Greenmarket sets up shop here on Sundays, a nice consonance. (The tents in the following photo are the giveaway.)

Paseo Park, Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City parks

Are there festive, colorful blocks adorning these blocks? That's a yes.

Paseo Park, Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City parks

The project grew out of NYC's pandemic-spawned Open Streets program, which sets aside stretches of certain avenues around the city for pedestrians only on Saturdays in the summer and has become a permanent feature of city life.

Why "Paseo Park?" "Paseo" means "a leisurely stroll or promenade" in Spanish.

Paseo Park, Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City parks

While on your stroll or promenade, you'll come upon an existing park. Travers Park is primarily a playground and sports facility, but has enough spots for passive recreation that it merits a mention here. One unusual feature is a big grassy field that doesn't seem to be designated for anything but lolling about.

Travers Park, Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City parks
Travers Park, Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City parks

Not unusual are these stone chess tables, a common sight in New York City's parks.

Travers Park, Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City parks

Trees were in bloom on the day of our visit.

Travers Park, Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City parks

Travers Park also has its own "Friends of" organization.

Thomas J. Travers (1897–1958) was a community leader. Here's what I liked about the brief bio on the Parks Department website:

"After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War I, he returned to New York to marry his childhood sweetheart, Ann Desmond."

A New York Times article headlined "Jackson Heights, Global Town Square" reported in 2020:

Even by New York standards, Jackson Heights is changing so fast and contains so many different communities that no single walk can begin to take in the whole neighborhood. There’s a booming Latin American cultural scene, a growing Nepali and Tibetan contingent, an urban activist movement, pioneering car bans on local streets. This is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's district, and it is represented by a longtime openly gay city councilman named Daniel Dromm.

Open streets? Openly gay? All you have to do is open your mind, and look: a new park.

Taking a walk in Jackson Heights? Park Odyssey recommends a dosa and a curry at vegetarian South Indian restaurant Samudra followed by ice cream at Jahn's.

Travers Park, Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City parks
park odyssey 300

All photos © Oren Hope

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Maritcha R. Lyons Park

Exiting Susan Smith McKinney Steward Park (see the previous post) you can walk under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) and find another little park, this one older. Formerly generically called Bridge Park I, this little triangle was renamed in 2020 Maritcha R. Lyons Park in an ongoing effort to honor prominent African American women from New York City.

Had you heard of Susan Smith McKinney Steward before reading this blog? I'll wager not. And the same probably goes for Lyons.

But first, the BQE underpass. It's a gritty contrast to most of newly gentrified Dumbo. You can't deny its positivity, though.

Maritcha R. Lyons Park Brooklyn New York City Parks BQE
Maritcha R. Lyons Park Brooklyn New York City Parks BQE

Inside the park, the expressway looms along the side.

Maritcha R. Lyons Park Brooklyn New York City Parks BQE
Maritcha R. Lyons Park Brooklyn New York City Parks BQE

The colors are eye-catching. But cute hipster Dumbo is nowhere to be found here.

Maritcha R. Lyons Park Brooklyn New York City Parks BQE

As for Lyons (1848-1929), she was, per the Parks Dept. website, "an educator, civic leader, suffragist, and public speaker. She taught in Brooklyn public schools for 48 years and was the second Black woman to serve the Brooklyn school system as an assistant principal.

Maritcha R. Lyons Park Brooklyn New York City Parks BQE

"Throughout her life, Lyons fought for women’s right to vote and was a member of the Colored Women’s Equal Suffrage League of Brooklyn. She died in 1929 in Brooklyn, leaving a legacy of advancing women’s rights and racial justice."

The site further explains that after her home was attacked during the 1863 Draft Riots, her family fled to New England. Her family sued to gain her admission to Providence High School. She became its first African American graduate.

That's courtesy of the Parks Department's Historical Signs Project, which does not seem to cover an older plaque also found here. It contains what was once a lesson in infrastructure history, specifically about the BQE. But time has flattened the raised lettering, rendering it hopelessly illegible.

Maritcha R. Lyons Park Brooklyn New York City Parks BQE

Of course, if you're interested in the BQE, there's plenty of information on that great crumbling thread of noise and particulates online.

All photos except book cover image © Oren Hope

park odyssey 300

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.

park odyssey 300

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