Hiding in Plain Sight: Reconnecting With Nature in NYC's Mid-town Manhattan
But fortunately, that’s not the whole truth! Come! Join me for a virtual mid-day walk along just one of NYC’s many bustling streets, and discover its kinder, gentler and slower side for yourself. One that is perhaps a little quieter and greener than you might have thought. We’ll start in Times Square, located at the very heart of NYC and make our way eastward, down 41st Street.
I’ll show you how and where to look so you too can see and experience nature’s “hidden” abundance tucked amidst the crowds, cars and concrete.
It could just as easily have been another huge midtown office building, but instead is a miracle of vibrant, open green space, smack dab in the middle of Manhattan.
On a nice day, the park is filled with people who have chosen to stop and enjoy a bit of time outdoors.
Around the park’s edge, tall trees provide welcome shade. At its west end, there is a huge fountain. Birds, flit and dart merrily about. At the park’s center is a huge expanse of lawn where we can sit, enjoy a lunch-time performance or on some evenings, even a movie. As we pass through, let us pause for a moment, close our eyes and take a deep breath. What do you smell, hear or feel? Instead of car exhaust, I smell living things—soil, plants, the delicate perfume of the many flowers all throughout the park. I hear the chirps of the birds and the fountain’s calming splatter and whoosh, which contrast nicely with the city’s harsher sounds, only steps away. If it is spring or summer, I feel the warmth of the air against my face. All of these things combined, help calm and restore my spirit. How about you? Do you feel refreshed?
Crossing the Avenue, we continue our journey eastwards along 41st Street. After the vibrant, green openness of the park, we are immediately closed in by tall buildings rising up on either side.
But even this seemingly sparse and barren stretch is dotted with the occasional tree.
Although we see only a few of them here, we can still stop and take a moment to appreciate their ability to survive, despite the harsh urban conditions. We can take another moment to appreciate or anticipate the dynamic display that unfolds each day as we cycle through the seasons: the bright, fluorescent green of spring’s emerging leaves, so plump and lush; the darker green of summer’s more mature leaves; fall’s fiery display of reds, yellows and oranges, glowing like embers as the leaves drop to the ground; the starkness of the trees’ bare, skeletal branches in advance of winter. Finally, one more, little treat! Look down and you may find that the tree’s pit is not just a dirt filled hole in the sidewalk, but is also home to a tiny garden of other plants and flowers! In some cases, the pit might even be enclosed by decorative fencing to protect these little communities from the city’s aggressive, unceasing encroachment. Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed by the city’s crush, remember these mini meditations and let them settle your mind.
They shake gently in the breeze, appearing to giggle gleefully, as they look down from their perch, onto the busy street-scape below. Little snippets of nature like this can really help to soften the city’s harshness.
We have now arrived at Lexington Avenue. Crossing the street and walking almost to the end of the block, we come to the first of two of my favorite spots along our route. Tucked between two office buildings, is a sliver of public space. Trellised ivy adorns the walls of one building. Raised marble planters are filled with trees, low-lying plants and bushes. The edge of the planters also doubles as seating where we might chat, eat our lunch or just be still.
A refreshing cross breeze is almost always blowing through this marvelous little corridor.
On a warmish day, these gusts are like a glass of water my skin sips eagerly. Let’s cut through to 40th Street on the other side and start to make our way back west. This will take us past the second of my favorite two spots, about a block away. There we find a seating area along side of an office building, on 40th Street between Lexington and Park Avenues. However, instead of the usual cement, the sidewalk consists of muted gray pavers. The overarching street trees filter the early afternoon light and create the illusion that the traffic filled street beside us has all but disappeared. It is as if we have suddenly been magically transported to a faraway shady, cool glade. While public spaces like these are not full-blown parks, they are still like tiny oases sprinkled throughout the city. They provide still another opportunity for the urban dweller to stop, take a load off their feet and enjoy a bit of nature.
As we say goodbye, I leave you with these thoughts. Cities hum and throb with a dynamic, but sometimes exhausting energy.
And now, for the first time in human history, more than half of the world’s population resides in a city. This trend will only continue.
In the face of such unprecedented urban growth, finding healthy ways to sustain mental and physical well-being will become increasingly important for those living and working in such places. Building an awareness and appreciation for nature in the urban setting is one way to achieve that.
They say what you focus on, you attract into your life. Now that you know how and where to look, choose to seek out and tap into nature’s own dynamic, but far more soothing and restorative rhythms, and find your own peace.