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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

My Secret Rose Garden

Between the lanes of traffic, a quiet path through a rose garden hides in plain sight. I have gone for a stroll there on several lunch breaks, and yesterday was the first time I have had any interaction with anyone at all. In essence, I have had a rose garden all to myself in the midst of America's busiest city.

The garden runs the length of several blocks of medians on New York City's West Street, otherwise known as the West Side Highway. Broken by intersecting streets, it is more accurately a series of gardens, although their character is mostly consistent from block to block.

There are no real entrances to the paths, making it ambiguous if they are actually open for public use. The purpose of the path is unclear, but it is likely there to provide access for the landscaping workers to maintain the sprinkler system and tend to the roses. To gain entry, you must step up a couple feet over a low stone wall. The path is plainly visible and there are no signs prohibiting entry into this publicly-owned space, but the lack of steps communicates that it was not intended as an entrance. It certainly does not meet the ADA requirements for a place designed for use by the public.

Over the course of the summer, some of the rose bushes began to overgrow the path. The ambiance of a lost place grew stronger as the plants seemingly took over the space.

The roses are little more than attractively green and otherwise nondescript bushes when viewed from across several lanes of traffic

The low stone walls create a barrier that discourages people from stepping up and walking along the path

My one encounter with somebody else did not involve another person viewing the roses. Instead, as I reached the end of the path at an intersection, I found my way blocked by a man enjoying his lunch. The low wall provided a nice place to sit and watch the passersby, although this has not been a common sight here (unlike the medians on Broadway on the Upper West Side).

The low stone walls can also be a comfortable place to sit, although few people stop here in the middle of traffic

I am aware that by writing this, I may destroy the seclusion I have enjoyed in "my" rose garden. If others read this and become interested in strolling among the roses, my private garden could become a place busy with strangers. That is ok.

While I feel privileged to slip away into a secret place, I have no right to begrudge others their enjoyment of a public place. I probably like to pretend I am intelligent and adventurous because I noticed this place and explored the (sort of but not really) off-limits path. On the other hand, I am often troubled by the sense of wastefulness.

Why are we tending a rose garden that nobody enjoys? Other plantings would have more visual impact at a distance than these delicate flowers. Planting a median for passing motorists or the visual enjoyment of pedestrians on the other side of several lanes of traffic does not require the care necessary for roses. There are many other locations throughout New York City that are much more frequented that do not receive this level of attention. I am not sure these rose gardens should actually be maintained, the budget resources may be better targeted elsewhere, but as long as they are here I would at least hope people get some enjoyment from them.

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