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Turf War


Of all the parks in our quite extraordinary Parks system, Riverside is potentially one of the most exquisite. It shares with the others some of that inimitable grass-and-granite drama that is Olmsted’s aesthetic legacy to the designers who came after him, but what makes it unique is the majestic river that hurries or ambles past it, a river greater than all other city rivers, muscular and moody, a Robert Mitchum of a river, a river so generously huge and all-encompassing it even makes New Jersey look good. None of the turgid floods in more celebrated capitals can hold a candle to the Hudson. The Thames, the Seine, the pathetic trickles of the Tiber and the Manzanares, acquire grandeur only to the degree that it’s reflected on their murky surfaces. The Hudson’s grandeur is all its own. It’s a New York river. It owes nothin’ to nobody.

And it deserves better in a park. Far better. For several decades now, Riverside has suffered terribly. The same fiscal misfortunes as elsewhere, the same social scourges, but more than any other park, it has been decimated by dogs. Hardly a square inch of it has not been ripped up by countless claws, pissed on and crapped on to the point of infertility by countless doggy loins. Not a block of turf can be laid in Riverside without being covered by the next morning with dumb chums; not a fence can be erected without being immediately ripped down by those pseudo-populists peculiar to the Upper West Side. The park’s configuration makes it susceptible to damage; for a lot of its narrow two-and-a-half-mile length, it’s a steep riverbank, descending to a causeway. Ironically, some of the damage is a result of Central Park’s rebirth in the Betsy Rogers years; a lot of dog lovers migrated west. As the West Side became richer and more fashionable, real-estate agents compounded the problem by telling new residents that the park was “dog-friendly.”

Which is all going to get far worse when the Trump Follies start debouching their well-heeled occupants into the park’s south end.

I have a dream. I see green from 72nd Street to 120th: riverbank and mini-meadows absolutely off-limits to dogs. I see flower beds in profusion, tended by volunteers, like the gorgeous spread that dazzles you all spring, summer, and fall at the north end of the Promenade. I see ample dog runs at each end (instead of the current ones at 104th and 87th, ridiculously long treks if you don’t live nearby) and at least two others, not in the park proper but in the occasional green medians above Riverside Drive. I see families finally able to play and picnic without fear of harassment. I see singles and couples strolling with their dog children, license tags on their collars costing $500 a year for dogs up to 50 pounds, $500 more for every extra 50 pounds. (Special dispensations for senior and low-income dog lovers.) I see signs forbidding dogs to urinate or defecate anywhere but in special conveniences in the dog runs. (To those dog parents who might protest, I would offer a crisp “Diapers.”)

I see the largest neighborhood park in Manhattan not having to be policed but run by its users with a modicum of decency, politeness, and give-and-take. But above all, I see the Hudson, hurrying downtown as if late for an appointment, or whipped into a frisky gray-green chop by a brisk nor’wester, or in one of its other hundred moods. And I see it without getting tripped, as I marvel, by a Flexi-leash.


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