Paley Park

53rd Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues
New York, NY

Contributed by Project for Public Spaces

Located within Midtown's cultural district and surrounded by high-rises, this celebrated "vest-pocket" park is a welcome respite from the sights and sounds of urban living.

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Why It Works

A small vest pocket park in midtown Manhattan, the park was developed (and every detail considered) by the person who paid for it, William Paley, former Chairman of CBS. Mr. Paley was involved in all aspects of planning the park from its conception to the selection of just the right hot dog (which is still served at a reasonable price). Featured in William H. Whyte’s film The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, the park is a success for several reasons.

For one, it is located directly on the street so that people are attracted to look in and enter. It has good, reasonably priced food, as well as moveable chairs and tables that let people be comfortable and have some control over where they sit. A waterfall provides a dramatic focal point and a reason to enter the park; its noise blocks out the sounds of the city and creates a sense of quiet and privacy. There's adequate shade in the summer from the trees, though they allow a beautiful dappled light to pass through their leaves.

People that PPS interviewed in the park said that they liked it because they could be "alone" in a busy city and it gave them a quiet, restful feeling. In reality, Paley Park is a quite heavily used place, but the movable chairs allow people the freedom to sit where they choose. It is also very noisy - but the noise is white noise from the waterfall.

History & Background

Completed in 1967, Paley Park is celebrated as one of the smallest manageable urban parks, and a prime example of a successful privately owned public space. The design for this 4200 square foot space, created by Zion and Breene Associates for the William S. Paley Foundation, proves that in even a small space can serve both a popular meeting ground and a place for relaxation and calm. Slightly elevated from street level, the sidewalk blends with the park allowing for easy access from passer-by. The park’s 20-foot cascading waterfall, running at 1800 gallons per minute, creates a backdrop of sound that causes the city noise to fade away.

The walls are covered with dense, green ivy and 17 honey locust trees provide a thin overhead canopy. The park's wire mesh chairs and tables help to make it a popular luncheon spot. Paley Park has an intimate relation with the street. Low and inviting steps and trees that canopy the sidewalk often influence passer-by to stroll through the park on impulse.

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