Discovering Columbus
October 24, 2012

Discovering Columbus

Columbus Circle has very often served as a launching point for our explorations around the city. It is the point at which Broadway begins to meander from west to east as it leads to lower Manhattan. Columbus Circle is also a good point to start from if you wish to explore the Hudson River Greenway or the bottom half of Central Park. One of the best reasons to go right now, however, is to visit a location that is not going to be here much longer: Christopher Columbus’s living room four stories above Columbus Circle.

The Discovering Columbus exhibit is an installation by Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi that not only gives new meaning to the notion of getting outside with your kids, it also gives you a rare opportunity look out over the city at the exact point from which all distances from New York City are officially measured. Nishi has constructed a modern, fully furnished living room in the sky, around the 13-foot-high statue of Columbus. As we wandered about the room, marveling at the spectacular views out the windows north, south, east and west, our son, Riley, put his hand on Christopher Columbus’ granite foot. It was then that we realized what may be the very best reason to go: How many people will be able to say, after the exhibit comes down November 18, that they once touched the foot of the Columbus statue at 59th and Broadway?

The Nishi exhibit is part of an ongoing effort to make the city as a whole a better place for walking. In 2005, Columbus Circle was renovated to ease pedestrian traffic and make it an effective launching pad for the path that winds down Broadway all the way to 34th street, Herald Square. The roadways were reconfigured, the crosswalks were widened, and the interior of the circle beneath Columbus was transformed into a quaint little park, surrounded by fountains and planting beds that effectively muffle the sound of traffic circulating outside.

Voyaging Further

Once your family has spent some time in the sky with Columbus, you can move on to other adventures. As mentioned above, a pedestrian path and adjoining bike lane leads 25 blocks south, through the newly renovated Times Square. Already it is hard to remember that this was one of the most congested spots in Manhattan. It’s amazing that what once seemed so ambitious—ultimately closing off all of midtown to automobiles—now seems a fait accompli.

Another option is to head east into the south end of Central Park. From the Maine Monument, which memorializes the sailors who died when the U.S.S. Maine exploded in Havana Harbor in 1898, you can see Heckscher Playground. Heckscher is the both the oldest and largest playground in the park. It features a jungle maze built into a large rock climbing area that is perfect for kids ages 6 and up, as well as sandboxes, swings, jungle gyms, and slides more suitable for younger kids and toddlers. Further east you will find the 4-acre Hallett Nature Sanctuary, and beyond that the Pond—one of seven bodies of water incorporated into Central Park’s design—as well as the Central Park Zoo. For a special treat you can head back west, and follow Center Drive north to the historic Central Park Carousel (first opened in 1871; $3 for a three-and-a-half minute ride).

Visiting the Statue

The Nishi exhibit is free; however, you do need to reserve tickets ahead of time. See here for further information. Strollers are not allowed and the site is not recommended for children under 5. Be sure to use the trip as an opportunity to inform your kids that, despite what they may have been taught in school, people did NOT think the world was flat when Columbus set sail. This is a myth that has been propagated for over a century in public schools across the United States and—as New Yorkers dedicated to getting our kids to explore the outdoors—it is our obligation to help end it!

 

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Take a night walk. Choose nearby or new: your neighborhood, a local park, along a waterfront, or out in the country. Whether you’re guided by the bright lights of the city or by starlight, pay attention to what you can hear, see, and feel. Even a short walk will illuminate the senses!



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