Among the grid of brownstone-lined streets and skyscraper-flanked avenues that make up much of the eastern side of Midtown, you can still find patches of greenery. Each of these pocket parks—no more than two square blocks—offers its own delights, from playgrounds to waterfalls to brilliant landscaping that will transport you, mentally if not physically, from the city’s concrete canyons.
Bellevue South Park
Mount Carmel Place, between 26th and 28th Streets
Prior to 1997, this park was predominantly asphalt and concrete. Now leafy trees provide shade for the playground, and plant beds, benches, and game tables make the park an inviting space for local employees to spend their lunch hour. You can get a workout on the basketball and volleyball courts, or mentally recharge by admiring <i>Skagerrak,</i> an abstract steel sculpture by Antoni Milkowski, who before embarking on his art career worked for the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation.
St. Vartan Park
Between First and Second Avenues, 35th and 36th Streets
There are plenty of benches and stoops where parents can sit and watch their little ones climb bright yellow ladders, whiz down sliding boards, and skip across the green bridges that connect the covered platforms of St. Vartan Park’s playground. But kids are not the only ones who can amuse themselves here; the park includes a wading pool, a roller-skating track, a horseshoes pitch, and handball, basketball, and shuffleboard courts.
Tudor City Greens
First Avenue between 41st and 42nd Streets
To attract tenants to the high-rise apartment complex he built in the 1920s, Fred F. French made sure to give the development an upscale name—Tudor City—and to include gardens among the buildings for a touch of the bucolic. Lush with myrtle and holly, magnolias and Japanese maples, azaleas and rhododendrons, and in spring, 2,000 tulips from the bulbs planted the previous autumn, the Tudor City Greens are a popular spot for romantic strolls, alfresco snacks, and simply resting one’s feet after a day on the go.
The Tudor City Greens in autumn. [Image: Elisa.rolle/Wikimedia]
Ralph Bunche Park
First Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets
Named after the first African-American to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Ralph Bunche Park is just north of the Tudor City Greens and west of the United Nations Building. Its best-known feature is the curved Isaiah Wall, made of granite and inscribed with a quote from Isaiah 2:4: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Several other monuments adorn the plaza among the locust and London plane trees; most striking is a 50-foot stainless-steel obelisk titled <i>Peace Form One,</i> by Daniel LaRue Johnson, a friend of Bunche’s.
The Isaiah Wall of Ralph Bunch Park. [Image: Gord Webster/Flickr]
Peter Detmold Park
FDR Drive between 49th and 51st Streets
This sliver of a park is a bit of an open secret among local dog owners, as it includes an L-shape dog run among its shady benches. Another notable feature is the pedestrian overpass that crosses over the FDR Drive to a walkway along the East River, almost directly across from Long Island City’s 120-foot-long Pepsi-Cola sign, which last year was designated an official NYC Landmark.
51st Street between Second and Third Avenues
A 25-foot-high waterfall over granite blocks is the standout feature of this three-level park, but it is not the only reason more than 200,000 people visit each year. The brick-paved central plaza, surrounded by flowers and shrubs and dotted with honey locust trees, is furnished with movable patio tables and chairs, where you can enjoy beverages from the park’s outdoor café or simply soak up the sun or cool off in the shade. A raised terrace with heaters makes the park a respite even once temperatures dip.
Greenacre Park’s famed waterfall. [Image: Teri Tynes/Flickr]
53rd Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues
Greenacre is not the only Midtown park with a waterfall; Paley Park has one as well, 20 feet high and resembling a shimmering curtain. Built on the site of the fabled Stork Club, this petite park has patio tables and chairs where you can sit and admire the potted flowers, the ivy climbing sections of the walls, and the five pieces of the former Berlin Wall, wildly decorated by German street artists Thierry Noir and Kiddy Citny, that were added in 1990.
Paley Park on a winter afternoon. [Image: Jim.henderson/Wikimedia]