Oculus - Spring 2014 - (Page 26)

GATHERINGS OF ONE In NYC's Riverside Park South and on Havana's Malecón, solitude thrives where two teeming cities meet the water ©Belmont Freeman BY JONATHAN LERNER W e're born alone and we die alone. In between, we get some choice. I, for example, thrive in the jostling, crowded city. Still, I sometimes want an experience of solitude, here in town but outside my apartment. It's possible to feel pleasurably and purposefully alone almost anywhere, even on a thronged subway platform, because solitude is a mindset, an interior condition. Yet some public spaces have exterior conditions that are especially conducive to a meditative privacy, even with other people around. Perhaps that state is evoked best by places such as Riverside Park South, designed by Thomas Balsley Associates, which occupy a particular sort of edge, between natural and built realms, and between water and land. Of course, Riverside Park South is much used by couples, nannies and parents with kids in tow, and groups of friends strolling, chatting, playing ball, and snacking at the outdoor café. One afternoon last fall I enjoyed watching a dozen high schoolers with a boombox practicing a dance routine far out on spacious Pier 1, where they had ample room to strut and kick. People also go to the park alone. They bike, jog, read on benches, and sunbathe on chaise lounges. The park incorporates a section of the pathway that runs nearly the length 26 Oculus Spring 2014 of Manhattan's Hudson riverfront, so it is also a transportation corridor, with plenty of those bicyclists regular commuters. But people also go there for solitude. Certain physical and design features help conjure that up. From Riverside Boulevard, the park's bordering street, there is a steep 40-foot descent to the river. Thus, separation from the city is tangible, something accomplished with a sense of departure, of leaving the everyday behind. The sense of retreat from urban experience is reinforced by the park's network of paths and boardwalks, which give intimate connection to a shoreline softened with little sculpted coves and beds of wavy marsh grass; unbuilt land and water seem to merge there. The river itself, so majestic in scale, alone invites contemplation. From out on the pier, the view back to the towering city is equally vast and compelling. You can find yourself feeling held in suspension between these two mighty things, one primordial and of the earth, the other temporal and civilized - both unrelenting in their flow and so much bigger than yourself. Reverie can also be prompted by the vestiges of the site's history that were retained, gantry towers and old pilings, and by the activity of the river. Sometimes a huge ship glides Civic Spirit: Civic Visions

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Spring 2014

Letter From the President
Letter From the Editor
Center for Architecture
Some Blocks Over
Opener: Open to the Public: Civic Space Now
The Search for the Soul of Cities
A Different Tale of Two Cities
Public Space Reasserts Its Political Role
Gatherings of One
Time to Welcome Woonerfs
Redesigning the Crossroads of the World
A Magical Place on the Water
How to Remember a Plague
Sustainable Models for a Just City
In Print
50-Year Watch
Last Words
Index to Advertisers

Oculus - Spring 2014