At approximately 4:30 PM last winter, I left campus in search of a hidden park. Paley Park is in Midtown Manhattan under a canopy of impressive skyscrapers. I discovered the park through TikTok, as most young people do. The TikTok caption led me to E 53rd St. and 5th Ave., a few blocks away from the 51st Street stop on the 4 train. As I frantically paced up and down 53rd Street, I realized how hidden the park really is.
Many people claim that Paley Park is meant to be stumbled upon. It’s the kind of place that you find when you least expect it. By the time I approached the hefty green gates, it was nearly 6:00 PM, and the sun was beginning to set. The park was paved in stone and marked by a web of thin, bare Acacia trees. A layer of Boston ivy stretched across the brick walls, and a man-made waterfall glimmered in the distance. The chaotic hum of the city was swallowed by the sound of falling water. It was deafening. If I closed my eyes, I could imagine myself at the base of Gooseberry Falls in Northern Minnesota. When I lived in Minneapolis, this state park was my escape from the city. It was comforting to know that a 4,200 square-foot space in Manhattan could recreate the same experience.
Paley Park was established in 1967 by New York architects Robert Zion and Harold Breen Associates. They focused on creating a space that would improve the wellbeing of its visitors. The waterfall provides a sense of calmness by muffling the sound of traffic beyond the park. It also purifies the air and creates a cool atmosphere to combat the summer heat.
The ivy on the wall is a low-maintenance lawn that offers the illusion of depth in the enclosed space. When the trees are in full bloom, they cast a network of shadows across the pavement. As you relax under the shadows, you realize how easy it is to get lost in the park. At any moment, you may forget that you are in Midtown, surrounded by oppressive architecture and angry traffic. Paley Park feels like a breath of fresh air.
In a city like New York, nature can feel like a fantasy. I understood this as I sat beside the waterfall on that cold, February evening. I felt as though I had escaped the city, yet it required some imagination on my part. Paley Park is a small, secluded, and intimate taste of nature. If you are in the area, it’s definitely worth a visit. The park is the perfect place for a peaceful lunch, a casual meeting or a good cry. At the very least, it will be a reset from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. Of course, you may need to close your eyes and lean into the fantasy of it all.
Art by Chloe Wei