New York’s less heralded public spaces are just as important to the life of the city as their more famous counterparts. These are the places where New Yorkers meet each other and experience their neighborhoods, where the city’s diverse communities gain a shared sense of pride and ownership. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of such places across the five boroughs. Here are some of the best.

THE BRONX

South Bronx community gardens

Through years of hard work, gardeners and park activists transformed these once lifeless, rubble-strewn lots–where buildings had burned to the ground–into community meeting places and cultural centers. The story is one of the most inspiring examples of how New Yorkers have used their own sweat and ingenuity to make more vibrant neighborhoods.

Soundview Park

Cricket is preferred over baseball among New York’s South Asian communities, and in this park by the Bronx River you can often see a match played on an informal pitch. In the summer, music from boomboxes pierces the air, the scent of grilled food is everywhere, and vendors quickly sell out their stocks of flavored shaved ice.

Wave Hill

Wave Hill is one of New York’s best-kept secrets, a 28-acre botanical garden and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River and Palisades that offers an array of educational programs to visitors of all ages.

The Bronx River Art Center and Drew Garden

A multi-arts center on the Bronx River in the West Farms neighborhood, the BRAC gallery features ten shows per year and is open to the public six days a week. BRAC also produces concerts and dance performances in Drew Garden, a community garden across Tremont Avenue.

Arthur Avenue

One of the few walkable neighborhood streets in the Bronx, Arthur Avenue is known by New Yorkers from every borough for its Italian restaurants and markets.

City Island

City Island, in Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx, is a destination for seafood lovers from all over the New York area due to its concentration of seafood restaurants at all price levels along its main street, City Island Avenue. It has a long history as a center for fishing, oystering and shipbuilding, and is still the home of a number of marinas. It still has a distinctive pedestrian-friendly feel, although some of the restaurants are building large parking lots in front of their buildings.

Southern Boulevard

The stretch of Southern Boulevard in Hunts Point is a very active shopping avenue, often pleasantly congested with people browsing the wares of various merchants.

Crotona Malls

Farther north on Southern Boulevard, the commercial energy dissipates and asphalt predominates, but these ample pedestrian medians create a surprisingly sociable space amid the otherwise inhospitable streetscape.

New York Botanical Garden

Wilder and more expansive than the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, this Bronx institution is in top form in the winter, when it hosts the stunning Orchid Show. Admission is free on Wednesdays and Saturday mornings.

Bronx Museum of the Arts

The Bronx Museum, founded in 1971, is a relatively new addition to the city’s cultural landscape, unique in its mission to promote contemporary art of special significance to residents of the borough. Focusing on art forms such as video, graffiti, and music, as well as more conventional media, the museum has a well-deserved reputation for supporting local artists and engaging surrounding communities.

Pelham Bay Park

The largest park in New York City features many miles of cycling and jogging trails, picnic areas, and boat launches.

BROOKLYN

Fifth Avenue

Brooklyn’s Fifth Avenue stretches for nearly 100 blocks, serving as a distinct commercial corridor in the neighborhoods of Park Slope, Sunset Park, and Bay Ridge.

68th Street Pier and the Shore Parkway Greenway

The 68th Street Pier is the northern terminus of the Shore Parkway Greenway, offering open views of Manhattan, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and the to-and-fro of seagoing vessels. Though perilously close to highway traffic for certain stretches, the greenway entices people from all over the borough with its promise of continuous waterfront access for miles on end, as well as plenty of fishing spots for those unafraid to sample the bounty of New York Harbor.

Flatbush Avenue in Central Brooklyn

One of the many main streets that sustain communities throughout Brooklyn, the stretch of Flatbush Avenue that passes through its namesake neighborhood of Flatbush is a cacophonous mix of ground floor activity and busy sidewalks.

Fulton Ferry Landing

This pier, where the Brooklyn Bridge soars overhead, is a great place to enjoy a black and white milkshake (from the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory) or a margherita pizza (from Grimaldi’s), though it suffers from a lack of walkable connections to downtown Brooklyn.

Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint

Home to a large Polish community, the neighborhood of Greenpoint is centered around Manhattan Avenue, its main shopping destination. A huge variety of small scale storefronts line the avenue, with goods often on display. The two-way street is rather narrow, which keeps the traffic moving at a reasonably slow pace and gives pedestrians plenty of opportunities to cross where they please. Perhaps one too many chains have taken over independent establishments, although the results can be interesting — an old theater-turned-rollerskating rink is now incarnated as the only Eckerd Pharmacy to sport a disco ball.

McCarren Park

The largest park serving the northern end of Brooklyn, McCarren Park is always full of activity. The park’s features include a community garden, dog park, and a Saturday farmers market, but most of the activity is sports-related. Games of all kinds are constantly taking place, and groups of families and friends often set up large picnics and barbeques to watch the events. People even socialize at the running track, which is seamlessly integrated into the rest of the park.

Latin American prepared foods market at Red Hook Ball Fields

About 20 vendors serve street food representing cuisines from throughout Central and South America at this summertime fixture. The mouthwatering scent of their grills wafts over a nearby soccer field, where patrons can sit and watch highly skilled athletes compete on weekend afternoons.

Keep your finger on the pulse–sign up for Placemaking News today!    Subscribe