New York tries to create Gardens of Eden on city streets
The Bloomberg administration sets up oases of plants and blooms of umbrellas along Broadway in a quest to devise a new urban aesthetic. Is it the Left Bank of Paris or just a bank of shrubs?
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“I like it,” says Mike Keller, an insurance agent for Afleck sitting near me, as he takes a quick break from work. “How did they come up with this? This kind of reminds me of La Rambla a little bit, where they have dining in the middle, except they have restaurants bringing them food and stuff,” he says of the iconic street in Barcelona, Spain. “Are they doing that? It’d be a pretty good idea, though. Except when it gets cold.” Mr. Keller had studied abroad in Spain while attending the University of Michigan, so he has an idea of European-style esplanades.Skip to next paragraph
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“World-class cities are making world-class investments in their public places because they know that really is one of the defining elements of a high quality of life for a city and for the people who live there,” says Ms. Sadik-Khan. “Streets in New York are about 80 percent of our public space, so we’re trying to make it more enjoyable and safer.”
“New York is one of the most famous cities in the world, and yet we don’t have a grand boulevard,” she continues. “Paris has the Champs-Elysees, Barcelona has La Rambla – we don’t have a place where you can just stop and take it in, have a cup of coffee, check your e-mail, read the paper, or watch the amazing passing parade that is New York City.”
The passing parade, however, is noisy. Besides the swish of taxis and buses, there’s the occasional but inevitable scream of sirens, booming construction flatbeds, and impatient horns. “Yo, Saul! Yo, SAUL!” yells a man in a construction hard hat as he jay-dodges through the traffic to the wedge of umbrellas within it. He cups his hand, shouts again, and jumps into the other side of traffic.
A couple passes by, hand-in-hand. The man is standing on the left, wearing shorts and sandals, while the woman, seated in a wheelchair and wearing a floral-patterned black blouse, is pushing the right wheel with her un-held hand. I wonder how she can go straight without veering to the left. They are speaking what I vaguely make out to be a Nordic tongue, and pointing to the Flatiron Building. Swedish, perhaps. Tourists.
Two strangers, each reading The New York Post, strike up a conversation – the normal where-are-you-from-don’t-you-enjoy-being-outside type. I ask a woman next to me, who’s seemingly engrossed in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and her Cobb salad, what she thinks of lunch in the middle of Broadway.
We chat about how odd it is, and she explains how, since she’s been coming here for lunch, strangers will join her.
“The thing I do find about New Yorkers is that people wouldn’t just pull up a chair and sit, if there are three empty seats – they’ll chat.” I learn her name is Caitlin Carroll, an architectural assistant from a nearby firm. She’s recently arrived from Scotland, but her burr is only slight. “Even though people are very anonymous here, everyone keeps their bubble around them, and yet they’ll easily talk, and want to talk, and I find that quiet strange.”
We chat about the city’s effort to make New York more “livable” and to create public spaces along the lines of those in European cities. Now that it’s October, the city is about to add mixed evergreens, junipers, and boxwoods to the planters, as well as kale cabbage heads and holly. On many of the buildings above us, we’re able to see the green fronds and branches of roof-top gardens atop Manhattan high-rises.
New Yorkers have long made their peace with the endless noise and concrete canyons of the city and planted green wherever they could. She laughs.
“It’s never going to be one of the civic squares they have in Europe,” she says. “New York can never have that unless they close the streets off to traffic. The city has too much of a fast pace for that to really happen.”