Everyone knows Washington Square Park—and rightfully so. Spanning nearly 10 acres, the park is best known for its 77-foot-high marble arch, designed by Beaux-Arts architect Stanford White and inspired by Paris’s Arc de Triomphe. It also includes playgrounds, a fountain, a dog run, lush lawns, a performance stage, a wealth of benches and elm trees, and ever-popular chess tables. But Washington Square is not the only Greenwich Village park worth a visit. The neighborhood is graced with numerous smaller squares and plazas that offer greenery, serenity, and joie de vivre.
Abingdon Square Park
8th Avenue and Hudson and West 12th Streets
Abingdon Square Park. Image: Elisa.rolle/Wikimedia
A scant quarter of an acre, Abingdon Square is one of the city’s smallest parks and, dating back to the 1830s, one of its oldest. Benches line the paved walkway that leads to and surrounds the central statue, nicknamed the Abingdon Doughboy, created by Philip Martiny in 1921 to honor locals who had fought in World War I. Since 2009 this leafy oasis has also been the site of a garden in memory of actress/producer Adrienne Shelley, whose office overlooked the park.
Christopher, Grove, and West 4th Streets
Christopher Park. Image: Elisa.rolle/Wikimedia
At less than a fifth of an acre, Christopher Park is even more diminutive than Abingdon Square Park. It is, however, part of the Stonewall National Monument, which includes the block of Christopher Street opposite the park and across the street from the Stonewall Inn, site of the June 1969 riots that spurred the LGBTQ rights movement. Commemorating those riots and the activism that followed is Gay Liberation, a sculpture by George Segal that was added to the park in 1992. Made of white lacquered bronze, the statue depicts two same-sex couples, one standing and the other sitting on a bench. The almost ghostly figures joined a bronze statue by Joseph P. Pollia depicting Civil War general Philip H. Sheridan that had been installed in 1936.
Father Demo Square
Avenue of the Americas and Bleecker and Carmine Streets
Father Demo Square. Image: Another Believer/Wikimedia
If this open, grassless park reminds you a bit of an Italian piazza, that is intentional. Father Antonio Demo was born in Italy in 1870, arriving in the United States in 1896 to do missionary work. He later became pastor of Our Lady of Pompeii, the neoclassical church with the off-center tower that is across the street from the park. An exemplary spiritual adviser and community leader, Father Demo gained citywide notice for the aid and support he provided in the wake of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire. A three-tier fountain is the centerpiece of the piazza, which is ringed with benches that in summer are shady respites, courtesy of the border of trees.
Greenwich and 8th Avenues at Horatio Street
Jackson Square. Image: WindingRoad/Wikimedia
The triangular shape of this park, like much of the street grid of lower Manhattan, harks back to Native American footpaths. This scrap of land became a park in 1873, albeit one that the public was not allowed to enter: Until the early 1890s they could only peer through the iron railing at the trees and the lampposts. Like Father Demo Square, Jackson Square is more of a piazza than a park, though here lush shrubs and trees encircle the three-tier fountain in the center of the space, trees punctuate the paved area, and in spring and summer flowers bloom in iron urns and beds along the park’s perimeter. The entire park is also a WiFi hot spot.
James J. Walker Park
Between Clarkson Street and St. Lukes Place, and 7th Avenue South and Hudson Street
This park packs numerous features into its 1.67 acres: baseball fields, bocce and handball courts, a playground, bathrooms, WiFi hot spots, and of course shady benches for relaxing with a book and a drink. The park’s namesake, also known as Jimmy Walker and Beau James, was one of the city’s most colorful mayors. Walker established the Department of Hospitals and the Department of Sanitation during his first term, which began in 1926. However, he was forced to resign in 1932, during his second term, for accepting bribes—though the fact that he’d left his wife for a Ziegfeld girl certainly did not garner him support among the political establishment.
Jefferson Market Garden
Greenwich Avenue between Sixth Avenue and West 10th Street
Jefferson Market Garden. Image: Eden, Janine and Jim/Flickr
From April to October, visitors are welcome to stroll through and relax in this bloom-filled park, which is maintained by volunteers using sustainable practices. The park features a koi pond, a rose garden, trees including crabapples, dogwoods, and pagodas, and flowers, butterfly bushes, and too many types of flowers to list. If the central lawn looks familiar, it might be because that is where Sex and the City’s Miranda and Steve were married, and yes, you can apply to hold a wedding in the garden too. Certainly the park has changed appreciably from the 1930s, when it was the site of the Women’s House of Detention.
New York City AIDS Memorial Park at St. Vincent’s Triangle
12th Street at 7th Avenue South and Greenwich Avenue
New York City AIDS Memorial. Image: JasonParis/Flickr
This tribute to New Yorkers who died of AIDS, their caretakers, and AIDS activists was dedicated in 2016, on World AIDS Day— December 1. Dominating the triangular lot is the memorial itself, an 18-foot-high steel canopy designed by Studio ai that is constructed of triangles within triangles. Designed by artist Jenny Holzer, the pavers beneath the canopy are engraved with sections of the poem “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman. The placement of the memorial in front of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital, which had been home to the city’s first and largest AIDS ward, was as intentional as everything else about the monument.