Battle of the Border Vacuums by Natalia M

Fort Tryon Park is a sixty six acre large park in Washington Heights that was envisioned by John David Rockefeller, designed by the son of Fredrick Law Olmstead, and now tended by a private partnership between the Met Cloisters Museum and the Fort Tryon Park Trust, a nonprofit organization devoted to the preservation of Fort Tryon Park. From providing morning fitness classes for the park residents to organizing the Medieval Festival every October; Fort Tryon Park Trust is a driving force for creating a local community in the park. Highbridge Park is a one hundred nineteen acre large park that stretches by the Harlem River and from 115th Street to Dyckman Street. Highbridge Park was created under the Robert Moses administration and is a New York City public park without any history of private partnerships. Because of Highbridge Park and Fort Tryon Park distinct history, it is clear that both parks structurally operate and impact the park residents on a different scale.

Intersubjectivity is the idea that  “public spaces are the spaces that facilitate unplanned contacts between people,” which can range from chance interactions with strangers to planned meetings with friends. Fort Tryon Park can become a place for friends to gather and can bring strangers together for morning nature walks in the park, it is clear that the park promotes intersubjectivity to a certain extent. Considering Fort Tryon Park Trust mission statement,  Fort Tryon Park Trust promotes the spatial privacy individuals have in the park and how gated it is from the “messiness” of city life. While I visited Fort Tryon Park during the Medieval Festival, I was inclined to speak to locals about their experiences in the park. I found Anne and Clay, two middle aged park users who live nearby and have been coming to this park for a long period of time. Anne highlighted that “everywhere is or can become a special place here.” The layout of the park provides an elevated escape from the streets of Washington Heights, and an individual sense of privacy. Anyone can come here to walk with their earbuds plugged in, read a novel, or even finish homework with a friend because anyone can curate their own personal space without worrying of disturbances. For this reason, I wouldn’t mind going to Fort Tryon Park alone because I know my personal space wouldn’t be disturbed since that park isn’t consistently intersubjective and there is security by the entrances. Therefore, Fort Tryon Park does facilitate interaction between the locals who have access to this park, but considering its location and spatial layout, the presence of that community isn’t always apparent.

This is very unlike Highbridge Park, where there are clear and spatially divided social hubs. Places such as the Highbridge Pool, the skatepark inside of Highbridge Park, the playground, the basketball court, and the actual park itself are all divided by street blocks. But each of these places provide a strong degree of intersubjectivity within the same locals who revisit all the time because each of these social hubs aren’t as spacious on the inside. In a way, Highbridge Park users create their own community because the layout of the playground, pool, and skatepark encourage interaction on a daily basis. This was evident when I interviewed a young couple who was walking through Yeshiva University and I asked them if they go to both parks for different reasons. The couple highlighted that they would individually go for a run at Fort Tryon Park, but bring their child to play at Highbridge Park. It is important to note how Fort Tryon Park invites solitude and privacy, while Highbridge Park has always tried to encourage community first. Personally, I grew up nearby Highbridge Park and I distinctly remember either knowing my friends who would always go to that park after school or always expecting to make a new friend each time I would go only with my parents when I was younger. Highbridge Park was my park through the end of middle school, but I never felt safe alone there. There was always fear of violence, drug dealers, or old men loitering that would stop me from entering the walking trails deeper in Highbridge Park.

A park is functional and necessary for a neighborhood when it can enhance the streets, instead of reflecting the conditions of it. In many ways, both Highbridge Park and Fort Tryon Park do not function well because they are both reflective of the class difference in the neighborhood. Highbridge Park hasn’t had new playground games since I was a child, and was visiting that park every Sunday after church with my family. The distribution of wealth that goes into Fort Tryon Park every year through the private partnerships is drastically unequal to the amount of care Highbridge Park receives as just a New York City park. In short, these parks may function very well for some audiences, but the neighborhood park should be functional to the entire community.

2 thoughts on “Battle of the Border Vacuums by Natalia M

  1. Thank you for teaching me about intersubjectivity. How to we move from proximity to interact and build empathy across our city?

  2. From your descriptions of activities that take place in Fort Tryon Park, I can envision its liveliness. Through your contrast of Tryon Park and Highbridge Park, it was easy to understand the essential differences between the parks. I am wondering though, why do the “private partnerships” distribute more wealth to Fort Tryon Park compared to Highbridge park?

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