When I was a little girl and invited to my first birthday party at a miniature golf course, I was only familiar with the kind of golf I watched on television. That was PGA golf as played by Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus on storied courses such as Pebble Beach, Augusta National, or Saint Andrews. So, as a little tot, setting up at the first hole for my first inaugural swing of a golf club at this mini-golf course in some hot part of north Texas, I just mimicked what I'd seen on TV. Therefore, assuming all first opening tee shots involved driving the ball as hard and as far as possible, I let go with a massive swing. It was fantastic. The ball soared through the air way over the entire course and eventually into the parking lot. The ball came close to hitting about three people on its way up. The adults supervising the party went into shock and quickly pulled the little me aside to explain the distinctions between big golf and this version before me.
Whenever I see a miniature golf course, I immediately have these fond flashbacks. So, when I first saw the mini-golf course on the Pier 25 in the Tribeca section of Hudson River Park - especially with that kitsch feature of a Bedrock cave - I wanted to line up at the first hole, take a big swing, and drive a ball as far as the eye could see, deep into the Hudson River. Too bad the big me showed some restraint. I didn't even play.
The rebuilt pier near the cross street at N. Moore features many other amusements, including a skate park, a fanciful playground, a great lawn for undetermined types of sports, beach volleyball, and a nearby basketball court. When I visited the day after Memorial Day, I opted for the genteel pursuit of strolling out to the end of the pier and watching the boats go by. The sun was relentless. Beyond the river, I could see the structures along the modern New Jersey shore, the skyline of which is becoming more familiar to me, although I know so little of that side (soon I'll go, I tell myself.) Toward the south, I saw the rising tower of One World Trade Center, changing the perspective on Lower Manhattan every day with the construction of each higher floor.
Mostly I thought about how the piers along the Hudson were once busy working piers, a time when workers unloaded dry goods and produce off the boats and sent them to the nearby markets in Tribeca. The decline of manufacturing and local markets left the piers abandoned, visited mostly by romantic urban explorers or those who liked a good walk and a place to see the sky.
Now, in contrast to the old city, one in which physical activity frequently came with the job, we're a city of symbolic analysts who sit at computer monitors much of the day, taking the occasional break to find lunch at a food truck or play mini-golf with the kids. Our recreational pursuits, as evidenced on this pier, are increasing more rationalized. The transformation of the city's waterfront from work to leisure is one of the most significant and profound characteristics of the new city.
Many urban critics, including the authors of Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End of Public Space (Hill & Wang, 1992) expressed alarm that the city might turn into a theme park, with a decline in spaces for the general public. Here we have in New York, in fact, a rise of both. We see new public spaces with organized recreational spaces that, here and there, take on the appearance of an amusement park. In general, many large and complex cities like New York contend with power struggles between advocates of more public spaces and private companies that wish to carve out additional space for private means. If we think about it, a lot of the city is private, open only to members. We need more public space in the city like Pier 25, with or without miniature golf. (Design-wise, I think the golf course designers could have done away with the cave hazard and gone with something that evoked the surroundings, like a little Holland Tunnel, perhaps.)
Plans for Pier 26, by the way, under construction between N. Moore and Hubert Streets, include a boathouse, waterside café, and estuarium, with historic ships moored between the piers.
If you're on Pier 25, hit one out of the park for me.
View Pier 25, Hudson River Park in a larger map
Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from May 31, 2011. For further information, see the website of the Hudson River Park Trust and a good blog with updated news on the waterfront, NYC Transported: Exploring New York City and its Waterfront. More pictures in this set on Flickr WOTBA.