Excerpted from GPTA President Glenn Plaskin’s Katie Up and Down the Hall:
Tucked away at the southernmost tip of Manhattan is a little town built on water.
In a city of eight million, you could almost miss this tiny community of 9,000 that offers Hudson river sunsets, up-close views of the Statue of Liberty, and a never-ending parade of sailboats, ferries, and cruise ships.
Many New Yorkers are only vaguely aware of it, while tourists often pass it by. In fact, the charm of the place is that it’s so hidden away, though impossible to leave once you’ve discovered it.
Armies of gardeners maintain the winding trails, manicured parks, and gardens splashed with flowers of every color.
Here there are playgrounds decorated with fanciful sculptures, playing fields brimming with Little Leaguers, expansive lawns for sunbathing, duck ponds with waterfalls, and restaurants perched along the water.
Then there are the plazas for outdoor concerts, a marina filled with motorboats and yachts, and the spectacular Winter Garden, a glass-enclosed pavilion featuring sixteen palm trees overlooking the Hudson.
And best of all, day or night, it’s the water lapping up against the shore that you hear, not sirens or cars, a fact appreciated by us writers.
The idea for it all began in the late ‘60’s with the construction of the World Trade Center. The excavation for those soaring 110-story Twin Towers produced a gargantuan amount of earth. And like chefs not wasting any of their leftover ingredients, construction crews saved tons of the dirt, rocks, and sand for a greater purpose.
It took six years to complete, but ingenious engineers devised a way to use this material as landfill, filling in the Hudson to create a brand-new town.
Water was pumped out, new earth was put in, and the boundary line of the river was pushed westward—creating a 92-acre oasis thereafter known as Battery Park City.
The result is a sleek virtual city–with sparkling sand-colored high rises flanked by airy office towers, hotels, museums, movie theaters, public schools, and a shopping arcade, all of it set on 36 leafy acres of open space. …
I moved here twenty-five years ago, seduced by the spectacular views of New York Harbor, historic Ellis Island, and New Jersey’s “gold coast,” though people questioned my migrating to a “wilderness” that was little more than a sandy beachhead. Traipsing to the local subway station required what amounted to aerobic exercise. One uptown friend joked he’d need a passport, a bike, or a jogging suit to visit.
True, we were inconvenient to get to and had exactly one supermarket, one drug store, one drycleaner, one bank—and a half-finished garden and pool.
But to me the views made it all worth it. After all, I’d come from a dark walk-up apartment overlooking an airshaft!
Compared to that, my new Battery Park City home seemed utterly sublime. It was filled with sunlight and perched so low to the water that I felt as if I was living on a riverboat.
I had my own honey locust tree that pushed up against the living room window, enveloping the entire space and creating a tree house effect.
And being a pioneer in Battery Park had other advantages as well. Since my neighbors and I were all isolated on the same little block of land, we were constantly bumping into each other, unavoidably so.
In fact, in a notoriously brusque city, where neighbors typically keep their distance, people here are unusually open—mingling at neighborhood block parties, outdoor picnics, pick-up basketball games, and sailboat outings–happy to be living in what amounts to an idyllic resort town.
The backbone of it all is a magnificent tree-lined Esplanade, a 1.2-mile promenade winding its way around the entire length of the Battery. All of the buildings and outdoor spaces here are set along this expansive walkway like pearls on a string.
In the warm days of early fall, the grand English oaks, river birches, and weeping willows sway in the wind. As I bike through the pathways, I’m shaded by a lush umbrella of trees, an ideal backdrop for lunchtime strollers. In the evening, the purple lanterns set close to the water glow as residents and visitors dine at candlelit tables.
In winter, though, living here becomes a grueling marathon, a regimen of ice, wind, and snow. Blustery high winds seep through our windows. Falling snow floating down on the Statue of Liberty turns it into a snow globe. And I’m always mesmerized by the jagged ice chunks that travel downriver, their edges catching the sun as the current moves them briskly along.
Then, with the arrival of spring, the neighborhood perks up. Cherry blossoms and silver lindens perfume the air with their heady sweetness. Eighty species of birds flutter amidst the lion’s tails, roses, azaleas, anemones, toad lilies, and lavender hydrangeas. And hopeful fisherman cast their lines into the Hudson for local specilaties like bluefish, white perch, winter flounder, and tomcod.
But best of all, the Hudson is overflowing with sailboats, private yachts, tour boats, jet skis, and kayaks!—plus barges,water taxis, and commuter ferries-—a blur of nautical movement creating a wild dance across the water.
Most dramatic are the mammoth cruise ships that glide southward to the ocean as people stand on shore and wave. I think the only thing I haven’t seen on the Hudson is somebody floating by in a bathtub.
On land, the Esplanade is jam-packed with bikers, joggers, rollerbladers, skateboarders, picnickers, volleyball and soccer players, and a cavalcade of baby carriages. In fact, this is Kid Central, with toddlers, and elementary school kids everywhere, their bikes, skateboards, frisbees, and kites filling the neighborhood with action.
And that’s not to mention the dogs—hundreds of them in every shape and size.
Majestic Great Danes rub noses with pint-sized pugs and Shih Tsu’s.
Golden Retrievers and Labs race by the river, pulling their owners along, or trailing behind bikes, or ahead of Baby Jogger strollers.
German Shepherds, Labradoodles, Westies, beagles, and puggles all parade along the water, sniffing under trees and reveling in the sun.
At the nearby dog run, boxers, Yorkies, poodles, Boston Terriers, Wheatens, and bulldogs chase balls and one other, or splash in the dunking pool.
It’s a circus and a dog show rolled up in one. And it’s perfect employment for the neighborhood’s dog walkers, who are never idle, exercising their troops from dawn to dusk.
But to say that the neighborhood is dog-friendly would be an understatement.
At Halloween, canine residents compete in the neighborhood’s annual costume contest and dog parade.
Contestants have included a Batman whippet, a Wizard Of Oz cowardly lion Bernese mountain dog, a Cinderella Chihuahua, a Minnie Mouse pug, and a Madonna Lhasa Apso, all strutting their stuff.
They competed against creatively attired Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Australian Shepherds, Dalmatians, Havaneses, Border Collies, Scottish Terriers, and, of course, an army of mutts. (One year, the champion was Santiago, a one-year-old pit bull “biker”—in a leather jacket, leather cap, white T-shirt, and blue jeans). …
And so, I now invite you to enter my little world in a town built on water.