nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic

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Crack is wack

R has been nagging me to write about this place we visited before Christmas. If you look at a map of Manhattan and look towards the top of the island on the right hand side you will see a small square of green and the title ‘Crack is Wack playground’. Now that doesn’t necessarily make you want to visit, but being nosey Brits, we went and had a look.

Basically it’s a couple of basket ball courts with a huge concrete wall stuck in the middle, separating the two areas. On each side is a mural done by Keith Haring, he of the funky men and bright colourful paintings. He painted the mural in 1986 to “call attention to the damage drugs can inflict on community welfare” (says the NY Parks Dept website). Haring died four years later at the very young age of 32.

The mural has somehow survived, it’s been painted over and brightened up over the years, but even now it stands the test of time. I love the shadow of the tree on this photograph of one side of the mural.  I don’t have a good photo of the other side, so have a look at NYC Parks website instead.


I shall miss all this exploring and discovering the less well known parts of New York.

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Hey, Duke

Because it is so cold still, I continue to try and to find new and interesting things to do indoors with J, who is now 2 and 3 months. I’ve taken him to the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum a couple of times now. It hosts free toddler classes but they are in Harlem. The actual museum is on 91st Street at 5th Avenue, where it is housed in the enormous, grand mansion that was originally built for the philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. It’s a beautiful site undergoing massive renovation and is due to re-open later this year. In the meantime, it has moved its educational activities to a modern space on 110th Street overlooking the north end of Central Park. The contrast between the two locations couldn’t be any more stark. Even at 91st Street, 5th Avenue is smart and the park well used. Go up another 20 or so streets and you are in Harlem proper. It feels different and looks different with the large, daunting correctional facility looming over the newly refurbished playground in the park.

This end of the park is also home to a huge statue of Duke Ellington. I am embarrassed to confess I only noticed it today – not sure how I missed it as it’s got to be 30 feet tall. He stands proud on the north eastern corner of the park, in the middle of a roundabout. He stands next to his piano and looks like he’s commanding the traffic going down 5th Avenue. Underneath the plinth he stands on are a number of naked ladies who hold him in place.

I’m sure in the summer it looks good, with the trees in their full green finery, but ultimately this isn’t a great area and not one you’d see any but the most dedicated music enthusiast visit. It’s not one you’d want to hang around in, anyway. Here are some pics from three different vantage points, whilst I was trying not to be run over or lose J; they should give you an idea of the size and setting and to save you the trip.

duke 1









Duke 2









Duke 3







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Watching over Harlem

For many Upper East Siders the thought of going much beyond 86th Street on the East Side is anathema. Park Avenue drops off massively as it flows north through Manhattan and Fifth Avenue is a very different place once it’s not bounded by Central Park on its west side. The boutiques of Madision Avenue are long gone once you cross over 90th Street. This is Harlem. Harlem is full of amazing brownstones that, had they been twenty or more blocks south would be worth a small fortune. Here, around 125th Street they are unloved and empty.

I am here to explore Marcus Garvey Park. I spotted it on the map above the very top of Central Park and went to take a look. I had experienced 125th Street on the way to La Guardia a while ago: it’s a cacophony of street noise, buses, music, shouting and a major transport hub for the 4,5,6 trains and Metro North.

Here, below around 123rd Street is the park. Originally created in 1840 and called Mount Morris Park, it was renamed Marcus Garvey Park in the 1970s after a Jamaican political leader, active in New York politics but who died in London in 1940.

It’s a funny place. It’s 20 acres, so not huge. It contains an amphitheatre for open air performances; a large open air swimming pool and a vast sports area. It has a rocky hill in the middle made of Manhattan rock called ‘schist’. Looks pretty nice from the photograph below, eh?

blog pic 36

I’m afraid the reality is rather different. On it’s northern side are two run down kids playgrounds. I take J in but only because I see another mother with her three little boys there too. She makes me brave enough to go in, past the milling people, hanging out on the benches in the morning. Why are they there? Some are from the old people’s home opposite but some are too young. They look bored and listless but they are uninterested in us.

I ask this mother how I can find the Fire Watchtower that I had read about. She points to an internal road sloping up but warns me about drug ‘transactions’ and I am conflicted about going up. I had come here to see it and she thought, as do I mostly, that people pretty much ignore women with kids and buggies, so I’d probably be ok. And I was. I saw the odd character milling about but no one bothered me.

We reach the top of the hill and the Fire Watchtower is run down and unloved too. It originates from the 1850s when Manhattan had eight volunteer fire districts and each one its own watchtower. They are vast iron structures with a bell in the middle. In their time, they would have been ‘manned’ constantly, with the watcher looking for signs of fire and ringing the bell to alert the volunteer firefighters down below. Later in the century the New York Fire Department was created with permanent full time firefighters and there was no longer a need for the watchtower as communications developed over time.

Harlem Fire Watchtower








There is a lovely website all about this, but it really doesn’t tell you quite how sad it looks behind its high fencing with rubbish strewn around.

We wander back down through the park and into the noise of Harlem below. Watching over Harlem – at least it was quiet up there.