Undiscovered New York: Beyond Central Park

Welcome back to Undiscovered New York. This week we’ll be taking a look at some of New York’s most famous public spaces – its parks. First time visitors are sure to spend a few hours getting to know New York’s most famous greenspace, Central Park. After all, this massive outdoor space tends to dominate both the geography and collective imagination of our city’s residents. And frankly, with all that Central Park has to offer, including a zoo, Shakespeare and ice skating in the winter, it’s not a bad place to start.

Yet Central Park is just the tip of the iceberg. If you truly want to understand New York, you could do worse than spending some time at the city’s many parks. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation maintains more than 1,700 public spaces set across all 5 of the city’s boroughs. And while they might not be as well-known as Central Park, New York’s parks are as diverse as the residents that come to visit them, boasting their own unique amenities and personality.

Want to enjoy one of New York’s best hamburgers al fresco? How about spending the afternoon at a beautiful recreation of a medieval monastery? Or perhaps a $3 rock concert is more up your alley?

Click on through below as Gadling takes a closer look at some of New York City’s lesser known public parks and presents you with a list of some of our favorites.
Park One: Fort Tryon and The Cloisters
Way up at the very top of Manhattan, the city’s typically dense urban grid begins to fade away. Expansive panoramas of the Hudson River open to view, and the city’s streets are increasingly punctuated by large clusters of trees. It’s right about then, around 190th Street, where you’ll come upon the urban oasis of Fort Tryon Park.

This former site of a Revolutionary War Battle now boasts a pleasant outdoor space with some of the best views you’ll find anywhere in Manhattan. But the best reason to make the trek up to Fort Tryon is for The Cloisters, an annex of the Metropolitan Musuem of Art that is home to thousands of priceless works. Even if you don’t like old tapestries, it’s a pleasant place to spend an afternoon strolling the site’s well-maintained grounds.

Park Two: Madison Square Park
Located in New York’s Flatiron District, Madison Square Park is probably one of our favorite parks in Manhattan. Though it tends to attract less attention than its better known park neighbors like Bryant Park and Central Park, Madison Square Park holds its own for several reasons. Most importantly, the park is surrounded on all sides by some of the city’s most beautiful historic architecture, including the graceful Flatiron Building and the soaring Met Life Tower.

While you’re busy drinking in the facades of these two majestic buildings, make sure to grab a milkshake and a burger at Shake Shack, located in a modern stainless steel building within the park’s confines. The business is run by New York restauranteur Danny Meyer, and the Shack’s reputation for great burgers ensures there’s always a healthy line standing outside throughout the year.

Park Three: Empire Fulton Ferry State Park
One of the most prominent architectural features of New York is its many bridges. These massive structures strut across the city’s landmass like steel and concrete monsters, dominating the views in all directions.

In the Brooklyn neighborhood of DUMBO, you’ll find one of the best places to get a bird’s eye view of these enormous feats of engineering. The Empire Fulton Ferry State Park sits directly beneath both the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, making for one of the more unique New York park-going experiences. In addition to a number of walking paths along the East River, the site backs up against several huge 19th Century warehouses and the ancient structure of a former ferry terminal that once moved New Yorkers between Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Park Four: Prospect Park
If Central Park were to have a twin sibling, it would have to be Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Sitting on almost 600 acres smack dab in the middle of the borough of Brooklyn, Prospect Park is truly the green heart of this historic section of the city. Boasting an antique boathouse, its own zoo and enormous 90 acre Long Meadow, Prospect Park is truly a green gem for the citizens of New York.

Once you’ve had a chance to paddle around the lake and check out some animals at the zoo, make sure to stop by Prospect Park’s bandshell during the summer months for free concerts featuring some great up-and-coming rock bands.

Phew! We’ve taken you past four of New York’s best lesser known parks and we’re barely even started. We didn’t even have a chance to talk about other great parks like the Bronx Botanic Gardens or the enormous Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, home of the National Tennis Center and Citi Field. Did we miss out on your favorite New York City park? Leave us a comment below and tell us some your own picks.

Get lost in Osaka Japan’s craziest public park

I had a chance to visit Osaka on my trip through Japan last month and I am convinced it has be one of the more bizarre places I’ve ever visited. In addition to gorging myself on deep-fried Octopus tentacles and fishing for live eels, I also discovered Osaka boasts some truly surreal architecture.

This instinct for surreal architecture also extends Osaka’s public spaces, including one of the city’s more recent additions, Namba Park. Rather than tear down the city’s under-used baseball venue, Osaka Stadium, city planners decided to remake the space into a futuristic public space, boasting a shopping complex and an awesome rooftop park. The park is composed of a series of terraced levels, filled with cliffs, waterfalls, ponds, trees and manicured sitting areas. Sounds like a fun place to wander around for an afternoon, doesn’t it?

What I find most interesting about Namba Park is the example it sets for other urban tourist areas. All too often if a building or stadium proves unpopular, the city will tear it down and put an ugly parking lot in its place. Rather than follow this depressing example, the city of Osaka chose to leave the shell of their old baseball stadium intact, offering tourists and locals alike a useful public space that offers a great hybrid of both the urban and the natural.

Band on the Run: The Defiant Nature of Rte 4, Fort Lee, NJ

Ember Swift, Canadian musician and touring performer, will be keeping us up-to-date on what it’s like to tour a band throughout North America. Having just arrived back from Beijing where she spent three months (check out her “Canadian in Beijing” series), she offers a musician’s perspective on road life.

Fort Lee, NJ seemed to have the closest and most reasonable hotel we could get that was near to Manhattan without yet crossing the bridge (or tunnel). Seems to me that accommodations on the other side of the bridge go up about three hundred percent and so we decided to make our “Two Nights in New York” actually be one in New Jersey, one in Brooklyn.

We stayed at a little hotel called the Courtesy Inn in Fort Lee, NJ, just before the George Washington Bridge. It was on Route #4, a smaller highway that leads to the I-95 and holds the requisite number of hotels for travellers like us. It’s kind of an ugly service road, to be blunt, but I did find something unique about this particular roadway: its defiant nature.


Yeah, you wouldn’t think so, but nature has come on full force on this motorway. The center of the highway is filled with sumac and goldenrod, wild grape vines and tall grasses that have been so long neglected that they have started to form a canopy across the center meridian that cascades over the left lane.

There is an abandoned gas station here as well. It’s almost unrecognizable from the road as what it once was as a result of the overgrowth. Perhaps this is how the world will look when we’re all gone. (Yeah, that seems to be my current theme and I’m sticking with it.)

The Courtesy Inn was a trip in and of itself. Filled with mirrors on every surface, I nearly had a heart attack when I woke up and was staring at myself on the bed in the mirror on the ceiling. Strange to see yourself first thing in the morning, actually, and it rocketed me into consciousness and far from the dreams that had been so consuming just moments before. I packed up and put my stuff in the van and told Lyndell I was heading for a quick walk.

She waited in the van as I backtracked down the motorway past a car repair place and a functioning gas station until I reached the abandoned lot. Only five minutes or so from the hotel but it seemed like I was walking into another world. If I could block out the constant rush of traffic behind me, I could easily have been in a remote town that was being reclaimed by Mother Nature on all sides – but, in this case, three of the four sides.

The old gas station and auto center was boarded up and the asphalt was cracked everywhere. The weeds and trees were popping up through the cracks, lining the lot with green. Even the fences around the lot seemed camouflaged by the weeds as they grew in and out of the metal weave. I took some pictures over the fence, rusted with time, and then kept walking to the next lot, also abandoned, that wasn’t blocked by a fence.

As I approached the boarded up structure, I almost jumped out of my skin when I noticed a foot sticking out from behind a gap in the building. The foot had a shoe on it and looked like it was just resting on the sidewalk. My heart rose to my throat but I reminded myself that I was in clear view of the whole busy road and it was the middle of the day. That was enough to settle my nerves and so I stepped a little closer and saw that between this small outer building and the larger building, there was a small causeway in which a man was sitting on a lawn chair reading a newspaper. He almost jumped out of his skin when he saw me too and his paper crackled his surprise.

I just smiled and moved farther into the lot, away from his spot, but not without noticing he was wearing a garage work shirt with his name patch over the left pocket and had a lunch box open on the pavement beside him. I took a few more pictures on the other side of the lot before coming back in his direction. I asked him if he worked there and he said yes, but then pointed to the garage up the way, closer to the hotel we had stayed at. I realized that he did not speak English as a first language when I asked him if this was where he took his break and he just stared at me uncomprehending. I didn’t pursue it, just smiled and took my leave. I felt as though I was invading his quiet time. This was his spot and I was just an intruder.

I walked back to the hotel parking lot feeling moved by the redefinition of space from a commercial lot to a partial park, from a public retail space to a private hide-out, from asphalt to green in likely just a handful of years.


Nature is so powerful. Doesn’t take long and our lifeless creations crack open and get replaced by the life that belongs.

Right on.