Just imagine: professional playground players this summer


By Adrian Benepe

Summer is just around the corner, and that means it’s time to get outside and enjoy the many new green spaces opening right in your neighborhood. With new state-of-the-art playgrounds, beautiful plazas and increased waterfront access, one of the best places to enjoy the warm weather this summer is in Lower Manhattan. For the neighborhood’s growing residential community, the opportunities for recreation below Canal St. are almost endless, and I encourage all Downtown residents to take advantage of the many exciting improvements and additions that coming soon to a park near you.

One of our most ambitious projects that should open in late summer is Imagination Playground. This innovative playground, designed by architect David Rockwell, includes features that are accessible to children of all ages and abilities. Full-time “play workers” will be trained to guide, supervise and facilitate activities in a playground that does not rely on traditional play equipment. Instead, loose parts such as wagons, boxes, trolleys, barrels, carts, balls, bags, sandbags and ropes enable children to manipulate their environment and encourage unstructured, child-directed “free play,” where children determine their own activities, alone and with their peers. Rockwell Group’s pro-bono design and efforts have resulted in a playground that captures Burling Slip and South Street Seaport’s rich maritime history, with elements such as climbing rope and a lookout ramp with telescopes.

Another exciting playground we are opening this summer is the Hester Street Playground at Sara D. Roosevelt Park. The new playground, designed in partnership wih the community, will feature state-of-the-art, A.D.A.-accessible play equipment for multiple age groups with sand and water features and a variety of swings. The playground will also feature new paving, park lighting, seating and tables. Lush plantings of shrubs and new trees will provide ground covers. Accessible restrooms for the public and Parks staff are being built in the parkhouse and will be open later this summer.

Once you’ve had your fill of playgrounds, take a breather at the new John DeLury Square Park, located at the intersection of Fulton and Gold Sts., which is also slated to open this summer. The new park will offer a peaceful, green oasis within a densely populated and busy commercial and residential area. With a beautiful, naturalistic new water feature, graceful layout, new benches and thoughtful landscaping, DeLury Square will offer New Yorkers a welcome respite from the busy canyons of Downtown Manhattan.

Summer is also a great time to experience CaVaLa Park, located at the intersection of Canal, Varick and Laight Sts., in Tribeca. While the park officially opened in November, the arrival of spring and the warm weather season offers a new opportunity to take advantage of this half-acre park, which features large ornamental planting beds and benches. The park’s main attraction is a grand sculptural fountain designed in collaboration with local artist Elyn Zimmerman, in which water spills from an 8-foot tower into a series of stepped “locks” evoking the canal that once gave the name to Canal St.

Parks is also hoping to re-open several other parks in the Downtown area this fall, including Titanic Park, once a small seating area at the entrance to the South Street Seaport, which will be enhanced with larger seating and planting areas to provide an attractive setting for the Titanic Memorial. You may also see a number of projects in construction as you pass through the streets of Lower Manhattan this summer. They include the installation of a new fountain at James Madison Plaza and the construction of SeaGlass, a new aquatic-themed carousel at Battery Park. Through our partnership with the Battery Conservancy, we are also completing construction on Peter Minuit Plaza, a new meeting place that will become the only intermodal transportation hub in the city to connect water (Staten Island Ferry), bus, subway (No. 1 train) and the bikeway. While you are in Battery Park, stop by the recently complete New Amsterdam Plein and Pavilion, a new visitors’ center designed by renowned Dutch architect Ben van Berkel.

None of these improvements would be possible without the support of federal, state and local governments, in addition to foundations and corporations that are contributing to Lower Manhattan’s remarkable growth. Led by First Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris and Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Lieber, the Parks Department has worked closely with the City Planning Department led by Amanda Burden and the Economic Development Corporation led by Seth Pinsky on these projects, with the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, led by David Emil, and private sector partners providing much of the funding. Thanks to these friends of Parks, we are rapidly increasing open space in Lower Manhattan, improving the quality of life for all who live, work and visit this dynamic section of New York City.

See you in the parks!

Adrian Benepe is commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation