In recent months, we’ve grown used to things being strange. And to things being very familiar. Oftentimes, they are both. At once. Architect and writer Neena Verma has been training her eyes on sites around the city, observing their social dynamics. What she details is awkward, familiar, unremarkable, particular, and renders ordinary places, if not extraordinary, certainly worthy of attention. This is the first of a series of short texts on the ins and outs of our whereabouts.
“It could be beautiful.”
Surprisingly, this public park has been reviewed online over 29,000 times.
“Sub-average; it can hardly be called a park.”
The reviewers’ comments suggest the park owes its visitors some great debt.
“There were some cool little spots in the park, but I expected it to have more. I don’t know how to explain it. I guess I was just expecting more.”
“I didn’t find much to do here. Just a park.”
But it is just a park.
Set at the north end of a more than one-mile-long stretch between a highway and a waterfront, once better known for its forsaken industrial storage, the park offers a hill, a vista, sometimes public art, sometimes an ice cream stand, and constant troves of tourists (meh, locals too) taking selfies.
But it is just a park. A park that is part of a larger park which has received several prestigious design and planning awards; which has a fulsome website, active social media accounts, a non-profit corporation, a conservancy, sponsors, and members; for which a stated mission is to be “exceptional.”
Visitors expect a lot of this just-a-park, and in turn, this just-a-park makes such an effort. These expectations and efforts live, almost entirely, virtually. Competing descriptions, from visitors’ online reviews to the park’s self-professed identity on its website, create an impression detached from the place itself, yearning for a world that does not, and likely cannot, exist.
Both the visitors and the park beg the park to be more than a park.
Say the park was more. Say it created an immediate sense of community. Say the place somehow made you feel like a real New Yorker, even if you aren’t. Say it brought together people from all walks. Say every spot on the hill had the best view. Say it offered a perfect sunset. Every day. Say there was no trash. Say there were no squirrels. Say the children ran around with just enough joyful abandon as to not put your picnic spread at peril. Say the route there and back was a carefree bicycle ride. Say all of the dogs were uniformly well-behaved, but also a little adorably mischievous. Say the easterly breeze only blew on good hair days. Say the rocks looked rocky, but their sharp edges were miraculously soft to the touch. Say the mist from the water and the exhaust from the traffic smelled like two different, but complimentary, candles.
Or say the hill, vista, sometimes public art, sometimes ice cream, and selfies were enough. Say this was more than enough.
In this place far away and virtual, we forgot this is just a park. We forgot we were really here.