Green Spaces in London (and New York)

The Mayor believes parks and open spaces are key to the capital’s quality of life, and will invest over £220 in a new drive to improve London’s Great Outdoors – see the new Manifesto for Public Spaces unveiled on 16th November 2009.

Previously £6 million was spent in improving the quality and safety of London’s parks, funded from efficiency savings from the previous administration’s publicity budget with a high priority on clean, safe and attractive green spaces for all Londoners to enjoy.

The Help a London Park scheme was developed as part of his initiative to clean up and improve London’s rundown green spaces.  The scheme improved ten parks across London. Those who live or worked in London had the opportunity to choose which parks were to be improved. 

The Mayor announced the winner of his Premier Park award — a grant of £2 million. This is Burgess Park in the London Borough of Southwark.

London Open Squares weekend last June gave visitors a chance to explore hidden gardens in the city that many Londoners did not even know about. 

 Gotham Girl:  There are so many smaller parks and gardens dotting the city — perfect gems of green (with occasional bursts of color). Part of what makes them so delightful is that one comes upon them quite unexpectedly.

I don’t know which came first – the song lyric or the nickname but New York definitely lives up to the moniker “the city that doesn’t sleep.” I love the fact that right outside my door is an inexhaustible supply of activities to engage in. London is like that too. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been there before – each visit offers a stunning variety of experiences to be had. Of course, each city has its own unique rhythm but both make me happy. I just love the hustle and bustle.

Still – there are some days when I find myself wishing for slightly less bustle. (Such as yesterday on the 6 local train going downtown. I’m not sure rush hour on mass transit is the best time for a strolling mariachi band but that’s another story for another day.) When I’m in the mood for a bit of mental “white space” or want to relax, I head to the park.

Which park? That’s the other beautiful thing about New York and London. There are so many parks to choose from.

London’s large green spaces (Green Park, Hampstead Heath, Hyde Park, Regent’s Park to name but a few) are gorgeous and justifiably considered some of the finest urban parks in the world. I am always finding new things every time I visit. For example, I don’t know why it took me so long to find the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens – I only came across it three years ago – but as soon as I did, it became one of my favorite spots. It also reminds me very much of the Alice in Wonderland that sits nestled in a leafy spot next to the Central Park boat pond. I’ve also spent many happy hours visiting the Regent’s Park Zoo, watching the “lively exchange of views” at Speaker’s Corner and strolling across Hampstead Heath. These famous green spaces are not the only stars in the London park firmament however. There are so many smaller parks and gardens dotting the city — perfect gems of green (with occasional bursts of color). Part of what makes them so delightful is that one comes upon them quite unexpectedly. Well, I come across them unexpectedly. I’m sure the people who live near them find them just where they expect to find them.

London’s vast landscape of “secret gardens” and mega-star parks is one of its most defining features and one that Londoners I know take tremendous pride in it. They are right to be proud. They have some of the most beautiful and best-known parks in the world right at their doorstep.

I must point out, with my own pride, that New York is not lacking for gorgeous greenery either. Everyone loves a comeback story and few comebacks are as remarkable as the transformation from the Central Park. From the way it was in the 70s, when no one in their right mind would go there by choice (the very name brought to mind gangs of “wilding’ teens and it was considered a muggers paradise) to what it became 20 years later and still is – a safe, friendly green oasis of fun and fabulousness. 

Few things in life are as glorious as Central Park. I’ve already mentioned the Alice statue but the park is awash in statues – the array of figures along Literary Walk, the statue of Hans Christian Andersen where the Parks Department hosts storytelling hours during the summer and the “dancing” bronzes of the Delacorte Musical Clock at the Wildlife Center are some of my favorites. For spectacular strolling, the park offers the Harlem Meer and the beautifully tended Conservatory Gardens while those looking for something a bit more rugged and untamed, the Ramble (especially in the Autumn) is not to be missed. And of course there are features like the Zoo, Bethesda Terrace, the Delacorte Theater and Strawberry Fields. I could go on and on listing the things that make Central Park so amazing but we’d be here all day – and besides, being so notable Central Park often overshadows the fact that New York actually is awash in amazing parks so I feel I should give them their due as well.

The long, winding waterfront Riverside Park on the Upper West Side stretches from 72nd to 158th Streets along the Hudson River and is one of the most wonderful promenades in the city. On the opposite side of Manhattan is another waterfront worth walking along – Carl Schurz Park, a perfect gem of a park right near Gracie Mansion where NYC mayors theoretically live though it has been some considerable time since anyone has. Mike prefers his own place – and having seen it, I ask ‘Who can blame him?’

Finally, no discussion of New York City parks would be complete without mentioning Prospect Park in Brooklyn and Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. Prospect Park was designed by Olmsted and Vaux, the same duo that created Central Park. It is home not only to the first Audubon Center in the U.S., as well as an ice rink, a carousel, dozens of recreational facilities and athletic fields and – best of all – the bulk of Brooklyn’s remaining indigenous forest. Van Cortlandt Park is like a trivia game come to life. It has the country’s first public golf course, the oldest house in the Bronx, and the borough’s largest freshwater lake.

WaveHillThere are so many other great green spaces in New York – it’s hard to leave any of them out. There’s the Botanical Gardens (both the one in the Bronx and the one Brooklyn) and Wave Hill in Riverdale (so many New Yorkers don’t know about this one it’s like being in on the secret). Queens is home to Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens (home of not one but two twentieth century World’s Fairs) and of course, Fort Tryon Park (worth the trip even if the Cloisters weren’t there – but they are so do not miss the chance to visit).

See, just as I said – I could go on and on. I’m stopping now. It’s a beautiful day here – the perfect day for a stroll in the park and that is exactly what I am going off to do.

9 thoughts on “Green Spaces in London (and New York)”

  1. I completely agree; the green spaces in London are so important and hugely enjoyable. In fact I’m inspired by this post 🙂

  2. Boris is the best mayor !! green spaces are more appreciated where they go together with other human activities, shops, offices, public buildings, etc.

  3. You know, I’ve been enjoying writing these little compare and contrast pieces but not until today had it made SUCH an impact on my friends.

    I have a friend – let’s call him D – who considers Riverside Park (the waterfront park along the West Side) his “home” park. He knows every inch and walks there year round. As the city has rehabilitated and renovated each section in turn (a massive undertaking that has been going on for years), he watched, we commented and found each section completed more delightful than the last. We have said all along that this is a project where you can SEE where the money has gone and it has gone to ALL the right things.

    So it was and is certainly a park worthy of devotion. But the thing is, he ends up sort of ignoring the rest of the parks in the city. Even Central Park which was the same short walk from his apartment. But I got an email last night that STUNNED me. He wrote that this post has inspired him to check out other parks.

    Other parks!? Has the earth started spinning in another direction? Who was this and what has he done with my friend? You could have knocked me over with a feather but I grabbed the opportunity, checked the weather and have proposed that we go up to the Cloisters ( ) in Fort Tryon Park ( ). It’s not as large a park as Riverside Park and strictly speaking the Cloisters is part of the Metropolitan Museum but it’s a lovely day out.

  4. well to tell the truth i cannot really common on green spaces in new york as i have never been to America, i can read up about them but no matter how much i learn about these places a park or green space i believe is alot to do with the atmosphere and safety of it.
    until i have been to one of these places so cannot myself provide a view about what they are like in reality although just from the post alone it seems that these green spaces in America have a lot more to do inside them than London’s parks.

    hyde park is the biggest green space i have been to within a city.
    It is lovely to have such a large park and a break from the rush on londons streets but the only problem is hye park is always so busy.
    if you do ever go to hyde park most of the time you’ll find it hard to find a place to sit and if you do dont get too relaxed as you will fnd once youve shut your eyes for a second your bag that you are sure was beside you a minute ago is now now where to be seen!
    Fair enough there are police patrolling the park as they do around london but pick pockets and petty thieves are very clever and very quick too.
    But obviously you cannot pinpoint hyde park as a spot for thieves as they operate everywhere but when your in a very crowded area you always have to be on the lookout where ever you may be.

    i myself have a favorite park within London its not a big park by all means in fact it is a very small patch of grass really.
    As you leave guy’s hospital via the back way not through the main entrance you come to when arriving at london bridge station you will will see a nice little public house which i have never worked out the opening hours of lol.
    i believe it is a thai themed resturant pub well it was last time i was there.
    just opposite that is a square and the middle of that square hosts a small park.
    All it is basically is a small park withswings etc for children a patch of green and a few trees and the odd bench.
    the reason i like this park so much is while my father was sadly in hospital for a year both guys and st thomases i would visit him daily and found this park was a nice place to relax a bit a have a cigarette before and after seeing him.
    Its just little things like this that make a place special to me .
    obviously its not a nice thought thinking of the time my father was in hospital and as my father passed away in guys its not a place i would visit again.
    But i still am grateful for that little get away as i had a place to think and sort my head out while my life was in turmoil.
    Even then when the lunchtime or after work rush came along i couldnt believe the amount of people that passed through the place , it was like the m25 for people!

    Another place i really appreciated was the gardens within st thomas’s hospital grounds especially while i was staying for 3 weeks on site in the nurses quarters just opposite the main entrance.
    once again a place to feed my smoking habit (i must stop smoking lol)
    as you walk from the main entrance just by the church chapel there is an exit which is only open to a certain time i found out!
    There is a small square with benches and plants to me it was like a park i suppose.
    Well it was another getaway i suppose i would regularly sit there and further damage my lungs. There was also a very nice statue in this square but for the life of me cannot remember who of it may of been an author i believe?
    I would actually sit there and not smoke n the odd occasion just to get my head around what was going on and ring family an friends for a bit of support.
    Also as this ‘park’ was open i could have a stroll up and down the river if i felt like it.

    I remember these place for good and bad reasons but especially the place at st thomas’s as i would often sit there and shed a few tears away from my father and anyone else who could see and just being around natural life comforted me slightly. But i also would sit and smile there too though not as often when i knew that a procedure had gone ok and my dad was alright.
    Either way these too places mean an awful lot to me and i am very grateful for the both of them without them i would of been alot worse off i think as i needed the rest tobe honest it wasa very hard time in my life , and if they can hear me well… thanks! (i do understand they cant hear me but you get the drift)

    I also had many a good time when i lived in northwest london in some of the local parks.
    I remember ruislip park had a fate held by the lions club every year and i always took my little chow chow pumpkin there for the dog show. She had no chance of getting the obedience or any other normal rosette for that matter but always came away with the judges favorite!

    (not sure if you can do html on this but ill give it a go)

    Ruislip park brings back great memorires of my childhood when my mum and dad were together.
    It had a park for kids, a large green area rose garden and tennis courts for the life of me couldnt work out who to get in touch with to use them?
    Once again the best thing about this park was playing there with my friends from my childhood lovely memories.

    then next there is the park in watford cassiobry park.
    this is a lovely park, most people walk through this to get from watford met to the town centre. this park is very large with a lovely canal / river running through.
    I haven’t spent too much time in this park but have been a few times a few years back with my children’s home and played Frisbee and football there and had quite a good time.

    then northwood park where i have a lot of my youth much too much in fact. again its not a very exciting park but it plays host to northwood f.c and clubhouse, a kids park a nice walkway and tennis courts.
    It also had a skate ramp and it still has a basket ball net i believe.
    I remember one day about 20 of us cleaned up the tarmac and kids park as we were sick of all the broken glass where people had been smashing their bottles of alcohol.
    We knew it was no good for the children really dangerous in fact!
    So as the local council were not doing anything we all teamed up with brooms and dustpans and brushes and cleaned the whole place up took us about 3 hours all together!
    Then we even took screwdrivers and hammers to the ramp and repaired some of the loose slats.
    So thats another place that will always stay in mind for me.

    Then there is harrow park and uxbridge but i never spent too much time in those.

    Lastly on the very outskirts of london some call it london some say kent…
    Is lesnes abbey, this has a large forest like area kids park , open space and the ruins of an old monastery. This lies between abbeywood and belvedere and i always remember walking around with my father when he was alright and taking phots of the abbey. We used to have a really good time working out what the different parts of the monastery were. We would stay around 2 hours at a time that is a lovely memory for me so i guess lesnes abbey is my favourite of all of these parks i have mentioned and i feel so close to my father while i am there.
    Then afterwards we would sit at the tables to the right of the abbey and have an ice cream from the little hut (when it was openthat is) or a nice cup of tea depending on the weather of course.

    So i shall cease my babbling now , but will just say…
    A park or green space or any other place for that matter for me is made an enjoyable place to be for the memories alone you can take the grubbiest little place and it can be the most wonderful pace you have ever been depending on your memories of it.

    oh and there is also secret gardens in eastcote but…
    Thats a secret!

    Janina Davison-Forder

  5. Please, what happened to yesterdays interesting post _Ancient Greece : Ostracism . . ._ I haven’t finished reading it yet ! This follower of the blog much appreciates unusual posts in these Boris pages. BTW, much agree with airing the green spaces topic.

  6. Dear Peter
    Thank you so much for your interest and ‘The Other Pericles’ is coming over shortly to reply to you.
    Best regards

  7. On 3rd. July 1976, hearing fireworks, I wandered North a couple of blocks from my hôtel. The display was magnificent, as the explosions echoed off the tall apartment houses on Central Park S.

    On the 4th., a Sunday, the whole World and his wife seemed to be walking around on the West-Side Highway ; you never saw so many happy people in a city renowned, somewhat unjustly I feel, for a certain surliness.

    The parks of great cities are a constant source of joy ; I keep promising to call time out for a couple of weeks to investigate all those waterways one sees on the map of North-East London.

    * * *

    Peter, thank you for your complimentary remarks. The URL for ‘Ostracism’ is this :

    (Thought of trying to make it a link but not sure how the software would treat HTML.)

  8. I had the pleasure of briefly attending Regent’s College and living IN Regent’s Park for a few happy months. I did explore many other parks as well, but no one seemed as magical to me as Regent’s Park.

    I think Boris is doing a great job in office and I appreciate his commitment to the finer things in life and making them accessible to everyone.

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