Walking for Peace in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza

When the leaders of the world convene in New York for the opening of the General Assembly at the United Nations, tying up traffic on the east side of Manhattan with their heavily armed motorcades, regular New Yorkers, many of them born in other parts of the world, work around the congestion and go about their normal business. Some avoid the area around the United Nations complex between 42nd and 48th Streets, but others, particularly those with concerns about the actions of a particular government, gravitate toward this area near the East River. While world leaders gather behind closed doors, concerned citizens of various nations gather on Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on E. 47th Street between 2nd and 1st Avenues.

Dag Hammarskjold Plaza is a remarkable place. A tree-lined thin rectangle of a park, the plaza is named for the equally remarkable Swedish diplomat who served as Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1953 until his death in a plane crash en route to the Congo on September 18, 1961. A political economist by training, Hammarskjold showed a strong spiritual inner life with the posthumous publication of Markings (1963), his journal of reflections. A walk to the plaza is marked with streets and corners named in honor of other fallen peacemakers, among them Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, and Kudirat Abiola, the pro-democracy Nigerian activist, both victims of assassins. On April 15, 1967, one of the largest antiwar marches in New York history convened on the plaza. The march from Central Park to the United Nations included a broad coalition of civil rights activists, among them Martin Luther King, Jr.  After assembling in Central Park for a peace fair, speeches and performances, the marchers walked down Fifth Avenue and then to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza.

By the 1990s the park itself had gone into decline, so a nonprofit community organization, Friends of Dag Hammarskjold Plaza (website) was formed with the mission to beautify and preserve this place, historic not just for the neighborhood of Turtle Bay but also for the world. The Katharine Hepburn Garden (NYC Parks website) that stretches along the plaza is named for a longtime Turtle Bay resident and neighborhood activist who loved flowers. She also won four Academy Awards.

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A walk through the neighborhood near the plaza leads to streets characterized by a mix of architectural styles. There are some mightily odd touches, however, like a weirdly designed sequence of amorphous sitting spaces on 3rd Ave. between 46th and 47th. Like in the rest of the city, restaurants near the United Nations run the world gauntlet from Japanese sushi to Middle Eastern food to Irish pub fare. The difference in this neighborhood is the likelihood of running into members of the world's diplomatic corps, especially while the General Assembly is in session during the first few weeks of the fall.

The walk shown here begins and ends near Grand Central Terminal.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from Tuesday, September 22, 2009.

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