The Broadway Malls offer the best example of “hiding in plain site” that can be imagined. The shrub- and tree-lined median dividing “The World’s Longest Street” from Columbus Circle almost to the George Washington Bridge is in reality a 10.6 park offering green space, corner benches, public art, seasonal lights and more for the enjoyment of New Yorkers. The Broadway Malls may be the most easy-to-overlook asset that makes the Upper West Side such a great place to live.
A bit of history.
Upper West Siders can thank Central Park for the Broadway Malls. When completed in the 1800s, Central Park disrupted New York City’s famous “grid” street plan by cutting off Sixth and Seventh avenues. So the city took over a diagonal thoroughfare called “Bloomingdale Road” and put displaced park workers to the task of widening the street and adding a median. (Believe it or not, Paris’ famed Champs Elysées inspired it.) Thus, Upper West Side’s portion of Broadway was born.
It was also a project designed to attract business and boost property values, which it did. Over the next century the city improved the Broadway Malls with the high curbs and metal fencing you see now and by adding shrubs and lining the mall with trees.
By the 1970s, the city’s financial woes left the Broadway Mall in a sad state. Enter energetic and civic-minded Upper West Siders. Area residents, led by Eugene Hyde, founded the Broadway Mall Association in 1980. This non-profit was committed to the upkeep and improvement of the mall.
The Broadway Malls shows off the spirit of the Upper West Side at its best. A grassroots, neighborhood-led organization like the Broadway Mall Association brings together city, business and other community groups to improve and maintain a linear park that adds beauty and creates public space. In addition to working with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, the Broadway Mall Association partners with the Lincoln Square Business Improvement District, Goddard Riverside Community Center, the non-profit Doe Fund. Each group commits to help maintain nearby sections of the Broadway Malls.
It’s a big job: watering, trash removal, seasonal planting, bench and fence maintenance, seasonal lighting and public art, to name a few tasks.
The public art project is one of the Broadway Mall Association’s most recent programs. Well-known artists place sculptures along the mall at various intersections from Columbus Circle to 168th Streets in Washington Heights. These sometimes-massive works of art range from modern to traditional to whimsical. Peter Woytuk’s 2011 exhibit featured outlandish animals, some of which spun on their bases. St. Clair Cemin’s 2012 exhibit ranged from swirling metal spires to eye-catching cubic designs to stylized human forms.
The ambitious project literally takes art to the streets. And do Upper West Siders and visitors alike enjoy it? Take a look at any of the pieces at just about any time of day to see people posing for photos with them.
Want to learn more about the art on the Broadway Malls? Get out your phone. Since 2009, a sign at each piece of art features a number to call where you can learn about that piece. (Spanish and English) You can even voice your opinion to the Broadway Mall Association about the work with a recorded message.
Don’t let this Upper West Side attraction remain a mystery to you. Enjoy the art, the green … or just a few moments sitting in the sun.