Set on the north side of East 72nd Street between the F.D.R. Drive and York Avenue, this public park appropriates many of the elements found at Paley Park, the celebrated privately owned private space discussed in the HarperCollins through block arcade profile. Both spaces are rectangular in shape, with similar south-facing frontage widths and square footages (this space is 4,904 square feet, Paley Park is 4,200 square feet). Both have rows of high-branching trees (14 red maples here, 17 honey locusts there), uplit at night, spreading a wide canopy over the entire surface. Both employ rough-stone block paving that extends to the base of the trees. Both furnish numerous movable Bertoia tables and chairs that users love to arrange in flexible and individualized patterns. Both locate gatehouses with park attendant or guard near their entrances. Both provide approachable waterfalls at the back that calm and cool users. Both were designed by the same landscape architect.
With all these similarities, why do the spaces feel so different? The answer lies in the broader physical contexts in which these spaces are situated. Smack in the heart of midtown Manhattan, on the north side of East 53rd Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues, Paley Park palliates the excesses of one of the densest urban commercial districts in the world. Its serenity is especially valued in a neighborhood full of crowded sidewalks and encroaching skyscrapers. Paley Park is an oasis of sanity.
By comparison, this public park on East 72nd Street has far less of a contending physical assemblage to counteract. The neighborhood is not the central business district of Manhattan. The openness of the East River is easily seen and felt. While the space’s western side is adjacent to a tower, the three other sides are, by New York City standards, unobstructed. Ironically, freedom from bulk can deflate the value of open space. Still, with dappled sunlight dancing on the park floor, trees peacefully swaying in the wind, water gracefully cascading down the water steps, and plenty of movable chairs, tables, and wooden and granite benches, it is easy to understand why the space is consistently occupied by regular park devotees throughout the warmer-weather months.