October 30, 2011

Coming soon: Festival of the Trees 65

Snowy day near Jersey Street in Boston (Nov. 2003)
Mark your calendar for November 1, 2011 -- the arrival of the 65th edition of the Festival of the Trees.

October 25, 2011

5 Things I Like about Montreal

As you might have guessed, we like Montreal's parks.  In September, I wrote about my hike in parc du Mont-Royal.  See more Mont-Royal photos at our Flickr page.  Other enjoyable design elements of the city include its street tree gardens, (we first wrote about them in August 2010); small squares; and infrastructure.  If you followed our Where in NYC? (Subway Series), you know we like subway art.  Like NYC, Montreal's Metro stations house art.

Do you know in which Metro station this stained glass art is located?

We like the dual function of this infrastructure: street lighting and sidewalk seating.

Square-Victoria, quiet in the early morning, is livened by commuters emerging from the Metro.

October 24, 2011

5 Things I Like about Boston

When we returned from our trip to Munich and I reviewed our photographs, I realized that they fell into five categories: parks, street trees, transportation, recreation, and architecture.  Parks and open spaces, transportation, and architecture are also the subjects of our photos from a recent trip to Boston but I photographed infrastructure and food places, too.

Haymarket, downtown Boston

Old City Hall

Boston Harbor Hotel, Rowe's Wharf

Hubway bike sharing system

North End Parks, Rose Kennedy Greenway

October 16, 2011

Sukkah in Washington Square Park

More than a year ago we reported on the Sukkah City:NYC 2010 exhibition at Union Square Park.  This year, a sukkah was erected in Washington Square Park to celebrate Sukkot.  Sukkot 2011 is celebrated from October 12 to October 19.

The basic rules for constructing a sukkah are:
The structure must be temporary, have at least two and a half walls, be big enough to contain a table, and have a roof made of shade-providing organic materials through which one can see the stars.  (Source)

The Washington Square Park sukkah was built by Chabad House at New York University. Located slightly southeast of the Arch, it is made of variously sized wood boards and topped with branches of arborvitae (Thuja).  Arborvitae is classified as a tree or a shrub and means "tree of life"; the Morton Arboretum describes it as long-lived with decay resistant wood.

October 11, 2011

At play in Houston Street Playground

If you are familiar with the Lower East Side of Manhattan you might be wondering about the location of the Houston Street Playground.  It is the northernmost of five playgrounds in Sara D. Roosevelt Park on Chrystie Street.  We played at this playground numerous times this summer as it is across the street from a grocery store where we frequently shop.  Yesterday we played there with friends.

As in our inaugural At play post about the larger playground in Washington Square Park, this review is based on visits accompanied by a 16 to 24 month old child and the following factors in our assessment: sun/shade, seating, water, safety, and cleanliness.

Houston Street Playground is well shaded by large, broad London planetrees.  However, pigeons roost in the trees and their droppings splatter unto most of the play structures and ground.  Yesterday, the structures were the cleanest they have been of all our visits.  A trash bin is located at the entry gate.  There is litter but not enough to pose a concern.

The playground is surrounded by a tall fence.  There are two entries: the northern one which faces the basketball court is chained but the southern one is not, and it is hard to secure.  Also, users, especially preteens, do not close the gate on entering and leaving the playground.  Luckily, the playground is located within a wide park so your child is not at immediate risk of running into the street.

There is adequate bench seating in the playground but we usually sit on the northern steps or on the play equipment.  The benches are sometimes covered in pigeon droppings.

Water fountains and a wonderful misting fountain are located outside playground's southern gate.

This summer, the slides were a favorite; now, it is the jungle gym area and the short ramp just south of the misting fountain. Our youngest reviewer appears not to remember his summer visits as he kept referring to the playground as the "new playground".  We will be going a few more times this season.

October 10, 2011

English Elm in the Tree Year, part 4

In the previous post in this series, we wrote about the deepening color and thickening canopy of the English Elm with the onset of summer.

Whenever we walk by the elm, we observe squirrels eating, playing, standing, or engaged in other activities.  In the spring, they would likely eat elm buds.  With fewer buds to eat in the summer, the squirrels who frequent the elm are likely eating the nuts fed to them or left there by regular park users and tourists.  Squirrels, so common to us, amaze tourists.  The sheer size of the English Elm is also remarkable which might account for the greater amount of nuts and squirrel activity in this area.

Previous English Elm in the Tree Year posts are available at
English Elm in the Tree Year, part 3
English Elm in the Tree Year, part 2
English Elm in The Tree Year

This series of part of The Tree Year project.

October 3, 2011

Amongst The Core of the NYU 2031 Plan

Image: Existing condition (circled), Washington Square Village courtyard, NYU 2031 (source)
The existing condition of Washington Square Village's central garden - the 1.5 acre Hideo Sasaki-designed garden and green roof -- in Chapter 6, "The Core" of the NYU 2031 plan is illustrated (above) and described as "while extensive, is elevated above ground level and accessible only by means of the former Wooster and Greene streets, which remain as semiprivate drives isolated from the public realm by the existing buildings through which they pass.  Other green spaces are fragmented and often publicly inaccessible."

Image: Aerial view of Washington Square Village courtyard, annotated (larger image)
The NYU 2031 description and illustration are misleading.  The plan illustration only depicts north-south views but there are west-east and diagonal views. From two points on LaGuardia Place you can see the garden.

Image (#6 on aerial): Looking south on Wooster from West 3rd Street
You can also see the garden from West Third Street (at what once were Wooster and Greene Streets).

Image (#4 on aerial): Looking west from the garden
Image (#3 on aerial): Looking west from the garden
Especially as you approach the western edge of the garden you can see LaGuardia Place from the northern and southern steps on formerly Wooster Street.

Image (#2 on aerial): Looking east from LaGuardia Place

Image (#1 on aerial): Looking east from LaGuardia Place
The reality and perception of limited access is due to several factors.  One is the gates which the university's master plan acknowledges "obscure" the garden.  There are five gates around the garden and two that separate LaGuardia Place park from Wooster Street.  The gated entries on LaGuardia Place are chained closed.  Staired entrances on the west and east side of the Sasaki Garden are gated (the gates are chained closed at night).

Image (#5 on aerial): Looking east from Wooster Street

The only mobility-impaired access point to the garden is a ramp on its southeastern edge, off Greene Street.

Instead of razing this 1.5 acre Hideo Sasaki-designed garden (also "one of the first parking structure roof gardens in the country") to fix problems of accessibility, the university could retrofit the garden and the courtyard space: open/remove the gates, improve the pathways between LaGuardia Place and Wooster Street, redesign the staired access points to the garden as well as provide a mobility-impaired access point on the western side of the garden.  Landscape maintenance appears to have been deferred and thoughtful garden management could improve sightlines within and through the garden.

In addition to design changes to the gates and garden entrances, signage could be installed to indicate the name of the garden and its hours of use.  The garden does not have a formal name in the university's master plan nor is it indicated on the university's way-finding signs, but several community groups refer to the garden as the "Sasaki Garden" at Washington Square Village.  The university often incorporates images of the city-owned Washington Square Park; perhaps it should do the same for the Sasaki Garden.  (At a recent garden meeting, a volunteer suggested a tree-related logo for the garden.)

On one hand, NYU 2031 states that "[o]ther green spaces [in the Washington Square Village complex] are fragmented and often publicly inaccessible" and on the other it describes the proposed design intent as "break[ing] the vast interior of of Washington Square Village into smaller and more intimate spaces, promoting a park-like atmosphere."

The Key Park playground could be considered publicly inaccessible; it requires a key card but "residents of NYU housing and community members living in the Washington Square neighborhood" can obtain a key via an application.

Of course, the statement about fragmented could be referring to the two grassy areas just west of the garden one of which houses the Grow, Cook, Eat, Learn (GCEL) greenhouses, a community garden project of the NYU Graduate Program in Food Studies and the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.  Well into a game of bocce on the other lawn area last spring, we prematurely ended our game when a doorman told us to "keep off the grass".  The lawn areas are "fragmented" by the driveway of the university's mail service office.  Would the university consider using LaGuardia Place for deliveries to create a more cohesive green space?

Or, the lawn areas could be left as is, in there existing "intimate" size and the university could provide bocce balls and moveable tables and chairs to heighten the park-like experience.  Boston's Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy provides bocce balls in one of the Wharf District Parks but the university does not have to look that far for examples of moveable tables and chairs.  Union Square Park has them.

Finally, as for the "semiprivate drives" of the former Wooster and Greene streets, the university could not only return these roadways to their one-way street status -- the streets are one-way streets south of Houston -- (and expand the growing areas for the London planetrees and install sidewalks), it could petition the city to install crosswalks or other infrastructure where Wooster and Greene intersect Bleecker to signal a pedestrian and publicly-accessible realm.

Read our previous essays on NYU 2031 and the Sasaki Garden:

Tree Walk: 13 Endangered Shade Trees at Washington Square Village playground

Washington Square Village in the NYU 2031 Plan

Hideo Sasaki's Garden in Washington Square Village