Small Green Spaces

A few months ago when the country appeared to be moving away from pandemic life (or, at least, could realistically hope for such a transition in the foreseeable future), I began to re-introduce myself to New York City. Losing myself in a bookstore. Relaxing outside a cafe. Even braving a sparsely attended movie. After living in cities all my adult life, I found myself needing to learn how to be an urbanite again — the expected aftershock following a year and many months of effective hibernation.

A fountain within Jefferson Market Garden. (Photograph by author)

One exercise was wandering through favorite sites and neighborhoods, such as the Jefferson Market Garden in Greenwich Village.

Walking past the Jefferson Market Garden, the scent of its flowers draws in passers-by. The smell alone hints at a calming oasis, allowing one to picture shady corners and winding paths before even setting eyes on the space. Then, one steps through its gates and cannot believe that such a lovely garden sits within the dense, loud, and overwhelming streets of Manhattan. Although buffeted by corporate homogenization and pandemic drain, the city still manages to hold a few surprising examples of the delight possible in urban life.

Fish swimming in the koi pond. (Photograph by author)

Volunteers began raising funds to build this green space after a women’s prison on the site was demolished in 1974. Longtime neighborhood resident and landscape designer Pamela Brendan drew up the original plans for the Garden. Today, wooden benches nestled among thriving trees and colorful flowers offer a spot for a secret rendezvous between lovers or a long conversation shared by old friends. A koi poi filled with gold fish invites visitors to pause and forget the rush just beyond the garden’s wrought-iron fence.

The pandemic has laid bare the unpredictable nature of life. This might be one reason we need places such as the Jefferson Market Garden. Our private sanctuaries grant us a moment to escape the pervasive uncertainty. For a brief spell, our thoughts slow down and our body relaxes. We can simply be.

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