In the few years I’ve lived in the neighborhood, Union Square has completed an extensive round of renovations. Metal rails have replaced chicken wire fences, concrete plazas have been resurfaced in stone, embedded plaques and sturdy park benches ring the sidewalks, and new plants and trees abound. Perhaps most importantly, though, is the resuscitation of the grass.
In recent years the parks department has done a commendable job with the lawns in the square: it spends 10 months out of the year fertilizing and watering, to the point where, come May, the central areas of Union Square look as good as a proud suburban yard. The rest of the summer is spent battling the masses as they slowly trample the lawns.
As a local dog owner, Union Square is, in a sense, my yard, and I am thankful for the healthy, fenced-in grass. In the wintertime, we let the pooch run free at night when it snows, watching him romp in untouched powder, sometimes with other joyous dogs and their owners, as the cold makes the square a semi-private play area. In the summer, though, the lawn, and the rest of the square, ceases to be ours. Long into the night it is wildly populated, with a mix of people and a palpable vibrance that shouts New York.
I find great joy in people-watching as I pass by the lawns, as I spy groups I encounter daily and one-off surprises: the bums that sleep flat on the grass, some face-up, arms over faces, some face-down like they fell there; the teenagers that lean against the rails and sit on the stone walls; young couples relaxing, snacking, laughing, necking; groups of NYU students sunbathing, the men shirtless, the women in bikini tops, as though water were nearby; the pair of didgeridoo players practicing together; the man emoting loudly to himself, deep in a soliloquy, warming up for an unspecified performance or audition; the off-duty stripper reading a book, her unrealistic implants causing double-takes; the boys with signs rating cute girls as they walk by, temporarily diverting their efforts to rate my dog. (They gave him 8s and a 10.)
It’s not a private, quiet backyard, but for now, it’s my backyard. And despite the occasional spooky moment, there’s something comfortably reassuring about the throngs of people across the street, who serve as a nice reminder that in this town, no one ever needs to be alone.