Clement Clarke Moore Park, named in honor of the West Chelsea pioneer whose massive estate once stood on this ground, re-opened yesterday afternoon after a thoughtful and much-needed $1.5 million renovation. It’s not common these days to love politicians, but hearts were beating on 22nd Street when our much-loved Council Member and Speaker, Corey Johnson, joined the NYC Parks Commissioner, Mitchell Silver, NY State Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, and a team of hard-working staffers and community members to cut a green ribbon and officially declare the park re-opened.
A bunch of kids riding high on swings and zooming through the famous water-spouting seals could have cared less about what the grown-ups were up to, but they gave us their soundtrack of joy and went about their business: running, leaping, swinging, playing, howling in glee.
If you’ve ever wondered why the street grid in Manhattan doesn’t extend below 14th Street, thank Clement Clarke Moore. He didn’t exactly invent the modern celebration of Christmas, but he wrote its defining playbook, “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (‘Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house…”). Moore’s huge estate of open fields and orchards extended north from 20th to 28th Streets, and he was enraged when Ninth Avenue, as part of the 1811 Commissioner’s Plan that imposed a grid on Manhattan’s streets, cut through his property. He accused city officials of catering to the influential lobbyists of the time — “cartmen, carpenters, masons, pavers, and all their host of attendant laborers.” In response, the commissioners agreed to implement the grid only above 14th Street and east of Sixth Avenue. Having railed against the city for being forced to pay taxes to fund construction of the grid — “a tyranny no monarch in Europe would dare to exercise!” — Moore nevertheless jumped on the real estate bandwagon himself, and within a few years began developing his newly gridded-out property. As anyone who visits West Chelsea today can see, the development never stopped.
It’s always about real estate in New York, one way or another. But today in our beloved Clement Clarke Moore Park, it was about kids, seals, open space, and the sanctity of city parks. It was also a fine day to hug a politician.