This week I decided to take advantage of Saturday's perfect weather and dedicate all the posts to a few choice Manhattan parks. Enjoy!
More than a park, Union Square is really a second less-touristy version of Times Square (I'm using "touristy" only as a relative term here). With more subway and bus lines than would ever be practical, the park is perhaps one of the easiest to get to in all of New York – even Central Park doesn't have a single, definitive station. It's also worth mentioning how obscenely simple it is to get to Union Square from Brooklyn; For the vast majority of hipsters, this is their first stop in Manhattan.
As far as parks go, Union Square is pretty substandard. It's got some trees and a lawn, but its strength really lies in the open spaces, ridiculous street layout and the revolving door that is its retail environment.
The park itself is well-cared-for, but it's incredibly bland compared to many other spaces in the city. Consisting of a flat, symmetrical layout, its only major feature is the abundant seating – which is almost always unavailable either due to overcrowding, or a nauseating amount of urine.
Next you have all that free space. The north end and the south end of the park are wide open, unencumbered by trees, pathways, lamps, or anything else that you might find in a normal park. When nothing's going on, it's not uncommon to find these areas dominated by skateboarders or independent salespeople (read into that however you wish). On Saturdays the famous greenmarket claims most of the northern space. In the Winter, a very large, very maze-like holiday market offers up a plethora of chotchkies on the steps of the southern end of the Square.
The streets surrounding the park are a mess of renames and reroutes. For example: Park Ave South becomes Union Square East before splitting into Broadway (south) and 4th Avenue. Meanwhile, Broadway (north) turns onto 17th Street while Union Square West picks up where it left off, but only for 3 blocks after which it morphs into University Place. (See map for absolutely no clarification)
Around the perimeter of Union Square you'll find everything you need to live: Literature, music, shoes, baby supplies, entertainment, electronics, fair trade coffee beans, and any number of ATMs to feed into those businesses. Up until recently the Virgin Megastore anchored the corner of 14th St and 4th Avenue. A popular place to loiter while waiting for friends so you could be late to a movie, it's being replaced by a Nordstrom Rack outlet. Union Square is like a shopping mall with an unusual number of trees that you're forced to visit anytime you want to go to Brooklyn.