Oasis Park

Looming about the Westside Highway, between West 160th Street and Riverside Drive, is a retaining wall that supports an astonishing place that matters to New Yorkers. The place is hidden, its use is changed and its inhabitants are amongst the most imaginative in the world. Walking around the bend from 160th Street, one comes to a crossing, where cars bustle at speeds ranging from 35mph to 55mph, going in both directions and where the change in the depth above sea level is equally as ranging. Taking a left at this intersection and continuing along a row of apartment buildings 3-4 stories one experiences a welcome change from what was so loud just a moment ago. Moving along this street, along a gentle slope, one comes upon a jet black seven foot high picket fence that stands out among the light brownstone of the neighborhood and elevates one's curiosity. As one looks back from this point and around to the left and right, it becomes apparent how high he or she has actually climbed.

The rear of this housing complex was designed to provide a second means of egress for the residents of Riverside Houses, but that's not all it is used for. The concrete grounds are altered by its residents -- during the summer months of early June up until the final week in August -- and become a children's amusement park. The park is constantly changing -- a place where children each year between the ages of 5-14 come together and create a space design by and for them, with the idea in mind that nothing is off limits. This place of wonder allows children to explore social relationships of age, sexuality, gender and non-traditional pedagogies. With funding from residents of the housing complex, the grounds are cleared at the end of each season and taken back to their original state, or as close to it as "the children can remember," without any objections from the parents as to what should be done.

An analogy of heaven, hell and middle earth comes to mind, where the street above with the residences act as the heaven to the children, where they are allowed to come down to middle earth to participate in this very imaginative world, looking below at the ravaged ground of hell or the unused gardens below. This middle earth, situated on a cantilever above a recently disused garden, thirty feet below has placed all of the almost perfect conditions of a playground on the surface. Parents in need of security take heed that this world is protected and watched by all residents on equal footing and stepped back from the main street and below it. Children in need of self expression and independence are given that freedom, while it may seem like they are able to do anything they wish, the constraints of both the visual and auditory elements keeps their curiosity confined to the parameters of this rear yard. 

The Riverside Houses was built in 1941 on the dramatic site, overlooking the Hudson River. The property was part of the former estate of Charles M. Schwab, a very wealthy, self-made businessman and the president of The Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Schwab's estate was thought to be "the largest and most lavish home ever built on Manhattan Island."