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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Dutch Kills Green

Frequently when I seek out a new park it turns out to be dull. A path (well-maintained or otherwise), a few trees, a playground – maybe, if I'm lucky, a boulder or a historic marker. But often, too, the opposite happens: a park in an unpromising location turns out to be something very surprising, a strange treasure.

Such is the case with Dutch Kills Green, a sculptured patch in the midst of Queens Plaza, that wide expanse of traffic lanes and elevated tracks I'd known only as the entry or exit from the 59th Street Bridge. Also called the Queensboro Bridge and now the Ed Koch Bridge, the 59th Street Bridge owes its fame to the classic Simon and Garfunkel song, but is otherwise one of the less celebrated bridges in a burg famous for the Brooklyn, the George Washington and the Verrazano. Yet compared to Queens Plaza, the bridge was a cornucopia of personality and thrills.

A few years ago, though, Queens Plaza underwent a renovation, which gave it a bike path and a 1.5-acre park on the site of a former parking lot. (The NYC Economic Development Corporation website has a photo showing the before-and-after.)

The most remarkable thing about Dutch Kills Green is not its location, though, but its wetland. Yes, right here in Queens you can feel for a moment that you're in the Everglades.

The park also features benches created by artists, a small stone plaza described as an amphitheater (though I didn't identify it as such when I walked through it), lush greenery and flower plantings, and two centuries-old Dutch millstones, formerly buried in a traffic island nearby.

The millstones are not marked, so, not knowing they were anything interesting, I didn't take a photo, but there's one at this Curbed post.

Dutch Kills Green may itself be the ultimate in traffic island transformation.

But inside, though it's small it feels like a true oasis, if a humble one.

For a finishing touch, standing guard over the park is the magnificent old Bank of Manhattan building with its wonderful clock tower. Apparently it is becoming, or has become, a residential rental building, though as a Manhattanite I'm shocked when I hear about any developer being willing to create rental apartments, given how unaffordable this condo-choked city has become even for middle-income people.

For historic photos and clippings about the building, this Flickr page probably can't be beat. But don't just look at pictures – pay a visit to Dutch Kills Green, walk over a real wetland, and witness a small but magical transformation of what had been nothing but pavement. "Once there were parking lots," as Talking Heads (and then Caetano Veloso) sang; "Now it's a peaceful oasis."

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