how I found joy in nature in nyc

How I Found Joy in Nature in NYC: No, It’s Not Central Park!

City life drains me. Surrounded by skyscrapers and pavement, I crave green, open spaces. With an increasingly hectic schedule, I struggle to make time for nature. My body, mind, and dog miss the respite: the calm that nature reliably evokes. But recently, with a little bit of luck and effort, I’ve managed to find joy in nature in NYC, and it’s doing wonders for my soul.

Navigating the Concrete Jungle

First, I acknowledge that it’s my choice to live in a city. And I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else right now. Having access to world renowned restaurants, entertainment, museums, and shops justifies the struggle of the concrete jungle. So, this is not a personal pity party, just me sharing how I found joy in nature in the city and why it has been so impactful.

typical view in Tribeca
A Typical Afternoon – The View from my Apartment

I live in lower Manhattan. And although NYC is graced with some amazingly expansive parks (like Central), none are within a reasonable walking distance from my home. There is a definite lack of trees and greenspace.

I have also noticed that having my views impeded by buildings and busyness wears on me. It’s hard to describe the feeling unless you’ve experienced it. But somehow my eyes crave the vastness of an empty field or a placid lake.

Joy in Nature and the Research Behind It

Research has proven that time in nature improves our mental and physical well-being. It has shown to decrease stress, improve our focus and creativity, and even make us kinder and happier. I think that’s compelling enough. Clearly, it’s time to get outside.

“People have been discussing their profound experiences in nature for the last several 100 years—from Thoreau to John Muir…Now we are seeing changes in the brain and changes in the body that suggest we are physically and mentally more healthy when we are interacting with nature.”

-David Strayer, Researcher, University of Utah

What Aspect of Nature Speaks to You?

Nature sparks joy in people in different ways. Whether it’s listening to the waves of the ocean or looking to the night sky for a shooting star, we each connect with nature uniquely.

I grew up in Kentucky and lived near a lake that was lined with weeping willows. I spent countless hours sitting on the grass, watching the rays of sunlight and soft breeze dance through the rustling leaves. To this day, staring up at the trees is my favorite way to find peace and joy in nature.

No Dogs Allowed

I am a relatively new dog owner. My fur baby, Mila, turned two-years-old yesterday. She’s my first dog. I sometimes feel guilty having a dog in the city. Instead of getting to dig in the dirt, she digs in my couch cushions. And she absolutely loves peeing in grass. But sadly, she only gets to do that when we take a trip somewhere. There is so little greenspace in my area that dogs are not allowed on it. It’s reserved for humans.

Don’t get me wrong. NYC tries to provide space for all, including pets. There are two nice dog parks within a 10-minute walk from me. The problem is they are concrete. Mila is craving something softer and greener too.

So, is it possible to find a place where I can look up at the trees with no buildings in the background and be allowed to bring my pup to play? Without having to jump on the subway or my bike? Does it even exist?

A Hidden Gem in Plain Sight

My friend, Ruth, found it. It takes a little bit of effort, but it’s completely worth it. Here’s why:

1. Early morning light, exercise, and fabulous coffee.

joy in nature - a have at the end
A Haven in the Distance

The 25-minute walk down to Battery Park Lawns at the tip of Manhattan, affords me with the benefits of morning light and a good dose of exercise. Plus, one of my favorite coffee shops, Blue Bottle, is right along the way.

2. A Quiet, Open Space

joy in nature - battery park lawns

The wide, tree-lined, open lawns are located at the southernmost part of Manhattan allowing the skyscrapers to be forgotten. It’s quiet in the morning as the sounds of the city have yet to awaken.  

3. Nature and Social Connection

joy in nature - battery lawns dogs

The Parks Department has managed to provide dog owners a much-needed respite without infringing on city dwellers. By lining the edges of the lawns with fencing and allowing dogs till 9 am, the dogs can run off-leash, giving both humans and animals an opportunity to connect with nature in a more meaningful way.   

Ruth and I try to make this a weekly outing. Catching up while meandering under the trees while our dogs play has become one of my favorite parts of my week. The social connection in a natural environment is restorative for all of us–including the dogs!

Finding Joy in Nature

Do you know what aspect of nature brings you the most happiness? Is purposefully connecting with nature part of your lifestyle?

Even if you don’t find nature on your doorstep, I challenge you to seek it out. It could be just what your soul is missing.

mila at battery lawns
Mila – off-leash and loving the grass

"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."
– John Muir

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *