Brooklyn is a borough of earthly delights – including some of NYC’s largest, lushest and most storied parks.
If you live in Brooklyn or visit there often, you’ve probably enjoyed some of the epicurean and sartorial pleasures offered by the Epicenter of Artisanal Hipsterdom, aka Brooklyn the Brand. That means farm-to-table restaurants; organic food trucks; Chemex-brewed coffee; handmade herb-infused cocktails; and locally-made everything, from liquor to pickles to dresses to cheese.
But such well-crafted temptations have their price. And whether you’re mortgaged, renting or just Airbnb’ing for the weekend, a bed in Brooklyn costs a pretty penny these days.
So how do you enjoy yourself in the city’s most populous – and arguably most popular – borough without depleting your bank account?
You avail yourself of an age-old, cost-free Brooklyn ritual: a pilgrimage to the grassy expanse of an urban park.
Brooklyn’s First Park
Before NYC had Brooklyn, Brooklyn had parks.
In 1846, 52 years before the Big Apple annexed Brooklyn, Walt Whitman advocated for the preservation of 30 acres of green space where Brooklynites young and old could gather, gambol, and enjoy some fresh air.
He succeeded, and Fort Greene Park (Washington Park during Whitman’s time) became the first park in Brooklyn. It’s a park with a view – and a window on the past.
In 1776, back when Fort Greene Park was just a field, the Continental Army (aka our guys) assembled there to prepare for a butt-kicking by the Red Coats. That unfortunate event came to be known as the Battle for Brooklyn.
After the ill-fated battle, the British captured thousands of revolutionary fighters and, due to lack of space on land, imprisoned them on ships in Brooklyn’s Wallabout Bay. More than 11,000 perished and were thrown overboard.
But thanks to Whitman’s efforts, their spirit lives on. Completed in 1908, The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument tops the grassy hill in the center of Fort Greene Park. Beneath it, a crypt serves as the martyrs’ final resting place. It’s no wonder the Fort Greene Park Conservancy calls this park “the closest thing to ‘sacred space’ one can find in New York City”.
Today, the monument plaza is the perfect spot to rise above one’s own urban battles and gaze upon the city below. The 100 steps on the Myrtle Avenue side are a fun challenge for the hamstrings. Prefer tennis, basketball, or outdoor Tai Chi? Fort Greene Park has those covered too.
Those of you with four-legged friends should check out the park during the designated hours for legal off-leash cavorting. Every morning before 9AM, the park becomes a swirl of wagging tails, as dogs race around ecstatically to start the day. In a park built to honor freedom fighters, this daily expression of canine liberty feels like a joyful tribute.
Big Green Getaways
If you’re yearning to get a little farther outside your urban (dis)comfort zone, you may want to venture to one of Brooklyn’s larger green spaces.
In 1867, 20 years after Whitman’s victory in preserving Fort Greene Park, Prospect Park opened its gates to the public, offering 585 acres of former forest and farmland as a carefully designed respite to the inhabitants of a rapidly growing young city.
Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the 19th century rockstars of landscape architecture who kicked off their collaboration with NYC’s Central Park, the lush and spacious Prospect Park is the perfect setting for long distance running.
It’s also the site of a 3.35 mile cycling loop; acres of soccer fields; the first ever urban Audubon center; a restored 1912 carousel; the Prospect Park Zoo; and, like Fort Greene Park, a thriving weekly greenmarket offering delectable regional produce and specialties.
If you’d like to get even farther from the madding crowd, check out Brooklyn’s largest park, Marine Park on Jamaica Bay. Its 798 acres comprise a 530-acre Forever Wild nature reserve as well as bocce courts, cricket fields, and a landing site for canoes and kayaks. It’s about as outside the city you can get while still being in.
Pages of Parks
If you’re far from or unmoved by the parks described above, but need a dose of green, don’t despair — Brooklyn’s 71 square miles offer an abundance of options.
The NYC Parks and Rec website features 46 pages of Brooklyn parks and playgrounds.
With searchable items from Model Aircraft Fields to Horseback Riding to Roller Hockey, they provide a myriad of urban outdoor entertainments for little or no cost.
And if you spend enough days in the park, surely you can justify heading to The Farm on Adderley for a $25 Pan-Seared Golden Tilefish (mmm!) or to Glady’s Caribbean for a $10 pour of Owney’s Original NYC Rum (ahh!). After all — those are other Brooklyn pleasures you certainly don’t want to miss.
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