Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Outdoor Spaces - Connections Across the Pond - Aran and NYC

No matter where we are, what time period, what part of the globe, humans have always had an impact on their natural surroundings, and have worked with what was available to fit our needs. Even the pre-Christian islanders who first settled on the Aran Islands changed their landscape forever.

The islands are said to have been covered once by thick forests, which, like much of the mainland, early peoples cleared to use for lumber, and to create farmland.

Now the trees on Aran mostly look like this one.

The sheets of limestone were broken up to clear the land, and walls were constructed out of the stone debris to divide the fields between families, clans, tribes, etc. This was what was practical, useful, and necessary to do to meet their needs for survival.

Stone-wall fields. Inishmaan.

Flowers on the Highline.
Oddly enough, I started thinking about all this again a few days ago when I took a stroll on the Highline Park. The Highline is an elevated park built on the long defunct railroad tracks on the west side of the city. (According to the Highline website, the last train ran in 1980 pulling three carloads of frozen turkeys). It runs from 12th Street to 30th Street, through the neighborhood of Chelsea. Sections of it have opened piece by piece as construction goes on.

I've only been to the park a handful of times, but I think it's fantastic. The narrow space is used well, with sections of green grass, colorful flowers, trees, bushes, and spots to take in views of the city.

The Highline, bustling with activity. Views of the Manhattan streets.
I like how certain elements of the design complement the setting: old train tracks peek through flower beds, benches rise up out of the concrete floor like gears on a train,

Notice the seemingly undulating pathway on the right of the flowerbed

and clever design elements show up when you least expect them, like this geometric bird feeder.

Birdfeeder. The Highline Park, NYC
I remembered that there's also a semi-elevated, sloping, green grassy lawn just outside of Lincoln Center, near the Met Opera House, across from the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library. They've named it the Illumination Lawn. I had coffee on the Illumination Lawn (hehe, I love the name) with one of my good friends during his lunch break from work at the Apple Store.

Lincoln Center Illumination Lawn
So how does this tie in to Aran?

I'm not a psychologist or sociologist or urban planner, but I think what New Yorkers are craving is space (at least this New Yorker, anyhow). Green space. Outdoor space. Pretty space. Space to be, away from the busyness of the city streets. And since space is limited in this city, where else is there for parks to be built but...UP!

Like the Aran Islanders, we're working with what's in our environment to fulfill a basic need. The need for parks may not be as crucial for survival as the need for viable farmland, but we New Yorkers sure do need some space to relax, because relaxation can lead to happiness, and happiness - I believe - to a better, longer life.

Happy Emily on the Highline
If you know of any other interesting/inventive outdoor spaces like this in NYC, or anywhere, please share!

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