The Park That Never Sleeps by Klara Kurti ('17)

            To most people, New York City is all about lights, tall skyscrapers and fancy shops. The tourists all seem to be interested in visiting the famous Empire State building, Time Square and Central Park. Real New Yorkers, by contrast, prefer Starbucks to give them that same feeling of joy tourists feel. While many argue about the city’s main attraction, my favorite place in this hectic city is Washington Square Park located in Greenwich Village. I have been visiting the park since I was ten, and it has become a part of me. I’ve grown to love Washington Square because of its beautiful architecture, scenery, and most importantly, the diversity of the people who hang out there. Visiting the Square brings me comfort and a momentary feeling of relaxation from my everyday worries.

            When you first walk into Washington Square, you feel as if you’re about to enter a different dimension: a quieter one with friendlier faces. You’re leaving behind the yellow taxi cabs, the tall buildings, and the stressed businessmen rushing across the street to catch the walk signal. As you make your way deeper into the park, you’re suddenly surrounded by many different types of trees. No matter where you look, you’ll notice the tall Oaks and Maples. If you’re especially familiar with trees, you’ll also be able to identify the rare Japanese Zelkova, located on the southwest corner of the park. My favorite thing about the trees is the way they shake when the wind blows. When I was a young girl, I would often go to the park with my mother. On our walks, I used to imagine the trees as giants that came out to play whenever it was cold outside. I even remember having dreams of them being able to move and play tag with one another. My mother always thought I had a strange imagination, but the more time I spent in Washington Square, the more I loved visiting it.

           Most children today also enjoy the Square because of the children’s park in the far northwest corner. Whether they’re building a sandcastle in the sand box or fighting over the swings, children always seem to enjoy playing in the park. While the children stay together during their play dates, their mothers sit and discuss the latest gossip. I remember almost everything my mother and her friends talked about during our days at the park. Our neighbor, Aida, would always complain about her nanny stealing her clothes when she was at work. “I swear everyone thinks I’m crazy,” she would say. “What else could be the explanation for half of my clothes not being in the closet when I get home from work?” Besa, on the other hand, would brag about her husband’s new construction company. My mother, for her part, never had any fascinating news to share: “I have no idea what to make for dinner tonight. I need new recipes.” After all, who doesn't enjoy food gossip? Towards the southern part of the park, the grassy lawn in the shade is a popular place to relax in. Regardless if it’s two lovers lying together on a cozy blanket or NYU students sitting together in study groups, the lawn is always crowded with teenagers. Sometimes I wonder if they ever leave because I notice the same faces every time I’m there. Just remember, if you ever want to grab a spot on the grass, make sure you show up before dawn.

            If you like to live dangerously, the western part of the park may be the place for you. This side consists of drunken homeless people and marijuana dealers. The majority of New Yorkers familiar with Washington Square, usually avoid passing through this part of the park to sidestep conflict. Because of this, it’s usually very quiet. Instead of smelling the fresh air you find in other parts of the park, here, you get a strong whiff of weed. There have been times where I’ve been stopped by older men in their late twenties who have tried to sell me their products. The best thing to do is pretend you don’t speak English and stride through as if you’re in a rush. Unfortunately, the tourists disregard these rules and chat with the dealers. Besides the bad influence that has taken over the western part of the square, this side of the park is beautified by the three hundred year old “Hangman's Elm.” Standing at one hundred and ten feet tall, this tree is known to be the oldest in Manhattan. Legend has it that during the Salem Witch trials, many accused of witchcraft were hung on this very tree. The ironic thing about the western part of Washington Square is that the sun is always shining, due to the shorter NYU buildings located around it. What is seemingly the shadiest part of the park always has the most sunlight. If you take a moment to look around, you’ll notice how different the east side is from the west side. When you’re at the eastern part, you’re surrounded by children and laughter and when you’re at the western part, you’re surrounded by drugs and alcoholics. The two sides don’t seem to co-exist, although they are both a part of Washington Square. Different people hang out at different places within the park and they rarely mix with one another.

            One of the greatest things about Washington Square is the architecture. Its not only original but the styles go back to the early 1900’s. On the north side of the park, near Fifth Avenue, striking two story, red brick townhouses are lined up one after the other. The scenery of these houses contributes to the park’s beauty, even though they are only around the northern rim of the square. Whenever I pass by these houses, I stare at each one individually and pick my favorite one, imagining I’m in a movie. There is something mesmerizing about their white, brick stone stairs. Ever since I saw the movie “The Heiress,” it’s always been a dream of mine to live in one of those townhouses after I get married. How amazing would it be to wake up in a mansion that was built over a hundred and fifty years ago? As of right now, NYU professors have taken over the majority of them, eliminating my dreams of purchasing one them in the future.  Not too far from the townhouses, in the center of the park, resides the oval fountain. Happiness fills the air, as the sun shines directly down on the middle of the fountain. During the hot summers, people sit around it, dipping their toes in the water. Children also find amusement swimming and splashing one another. As the water shoots up to the air, almost everyone around it feels a cool splash. The refreshing water brushing against your skin usually helps you cool down when you’ve been baking in the sun. These are the moments that make the park so significant. Next to the fountain, the Washington Arch stands tall. No matter where you’re from, you’ll always be able to identify the park because of its memorable arch. Tourists are always in front of it, competing for the best picture. The arch always reminds me of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. On the other side of the park, on the outer south side, larger, modern NYU buildings have taken over. From its office buildings to its school stores, libraries and dormitories, NYU is slowly consuming every angle of Greenwich Village.

            The second best attraction of the park is the cultural diversity it offers. No matter where you are in Washington Square, there is always some type of performance going on. Whether it’s the amusing street performers who enjoy jumping over the tourists or the Africans dressed up in their native costumes, playing the drums trying to preserve their heritage, there is always something to watch or be a part of. All you have to do is push through the crowd so you can be in the front to experience everything. NYU students also use their free time to practice guitar playing or tap dancing. I remember almost every weekend last year, the same group of young men from the university, Irish dancing for at least three hours a day. Although you may not know all of the people there, the park gives you a sense of familiarity. No matter what you’re doing or how silly you may seem, you’ll always have some tourist watching in amazement. Besides the street performers, there are also many artists that use colored sand to draw various types of images. It’s amazing how talented they must be to make masterpieces out of sand.  Whether it’s a lovely rose or a familiar face, each artist shows their own style in their art.

            Everyone today has a space they like to relax in. Washington Square has become a big part of my life. Whether it was playing in the playground or sitting around the fountain, I find peace in the park. It’s one of the only places in the city I know like the back of my hand. When I grow up and have my own children, I would like to continue the tradition of taking them to the Square. As long as Robert Moses doesn’t rise from the dead and again try to build a highway ramp through the middle of the park!