Central Park is the incredible, epic classic of New York City parks, sure. And both Tompkins in the East Village and Prospect in Park Slope certainly have their charms (respectively, wannabe crust punks ten years too late and every Brooklyn parenting cliche the borough has to offer). But square foot for square foot, Washington Square Park is maybe the most special of these places. On the west side of the park, the pickup chess game tables (where Stanley Kubrick was known to play). On the south side, a newly constructed plaza, usable park bathrooms, and a new grass knoll, built into and over the ground. On the east side, those guys with the piano, the Otto gelato cart, the arcade with the benches. In the center, every stripe of street entertainment, be they cliche (break dancers) or refined (jazz trios), but so often the most impressive the city has to choose from. And then, of course, the fountain, and the arches, as seen in movies ranging from Kids to I Am Legend (of course, most of the movies screened during warmer seasons in Washington Square Park are in French, such is this park's particular character).
It's definitely not our city's most famed park, nor is it the greenest, but therein lies its most special charm: A pronounced lack of tourists, in one of the most touristy and ritzy neighborhoods in the city. It may be, as far as big parks go, the one most hidden in plain sight. And despite NYU buildings crowding up around it like an invasive species, the place still always feels diverse, alive, and quintessentially New York, in that it's a perfectly free, useful way to regularly remind ourselves of why we put up with all the shit we do to live here. — Foster Kamer