Until Pier 6 at Brooklyn Bridge Park opened, my only experience of parks as a parent had been of neighborhood parks. The sandbox, the little house, the frog park, as my son calls them, in eternal morning and afternoon rotation. Occasionally Carroll Park, but I found that to be too much of a scene. Sometimes a jaunt to Pierrepont or Chapin in Brooklyn Heights, where I often discovered other Cobble Hill moms desperate for a change. At some parks I always see someone I know during the week, but on the weekends, a whole new crowd rolls in, heavy on the dads. Where does everyone go? I have never been able to figure it out.
What all these parks have in common is small scale and a lack of amenities making them worthy destinations. They are ordinary parks, some shadier, some more climbable, some with swings, some with sand. So everyone who uses them is from around here, and we all follow the same unwritten rules. We close the gate behind us. We (try) to share our trucks. We stop others’ children from escaping. We talk to strangers, because we are all, usually, moms.
But Pier 6 is different. Pier 6 feels like the city, not a neighborhood. One resident of Willowtown wrote to protest the traffic in his/her sleepy neighborhood. They are going to do something about the dangerous approach. Everyone there is passing through, trying out the new equipment, looking for the next thing over the rubber knoll. They come in packs from other places, chatting about the World Cup and which restaurant they are going to try tonight. After opening day, I’ve never seen a friend. The gates are left open, too much traffic to keep them shut. The older kids run wild, having their adventure. I’m not sure I would talk to a child, much less try to find their parent, for fear I’d be seen as interfering.
To go is to go as a family, focusing on your child’s enjoyment and potential for injury, but you have to move as a unit, trying not to upset the other units. You have to check the map, keep to yourself, move swiftly along the paths, make eye contact when necessary. You’re not in the neighborhood anymore, and anything can happen. Is this the adventure in adventure playground? I think not. But it is a by-product of popularity, and a microcosm of the sense of safety and scale we experience in the city as a whole.