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Recessional Respites in Urban Parks

Writing for the Gotham Gazette, Anne Schwartz reflects on “stay-cationing” and the role of parks in finding close-to-home get-aways.

On the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, some friends and I went bicycling on Governors Island. We pedaled around and through the small island, along the harbor and past shady lawns and historic buildings. Taking a break at a bright red picnic table at the island’s southwestern end, we watched a spectacle starring a massive ocean liner, dozens of smaller craft, the Statue of Liberty and a pod of rapidly crawling swimmers.

We had plenty of company. In some places, the new promenade around the island was so thick with parents and children, tourists and groups of twenty-somethings that we had to stop and walk our bicycles through.

As of Labor Day weekend, more than 180,000 people had come to the island, nearly double the 100,000 who had visited by that time the previous year. To be sure, some of the increase can be attributed to a growing awareness of Governors Island, an increase in ferry service, new amenities like the Water Taxi Beach, and an active schedule of exhibits and events.

But for many city residents like me, it seems that a visit to a park became a mini-vacation in the city, a budget alternative to a weekend in the country or a house at the beach. The New York City parks department does not measure park use, except to estimate beach attendance. But preliminary numbers from some park organizations that do track it showed a dramatic jump this summer in the number of people visiting parks and participating in park activities, despite the second rainiest June and July on record.

The increase in park use indicates that well-maintained and actively programmed public outdoor spaces, so important to city dwellers’ quality of life, are even more crucial in a recession. By providing beautiful and interesting destinations for tourists and making a visit to the city more pleasant, parks also give a boost to the city’s economy during hard times.

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