in a cultural moment marked by extreme isolation, brooklyn’s parks offered me space for comfort and community.
by Langston Dillard
In early April, all I wanted was routine. I wanted my old, familiar, mindless routine, where the days began in a breathy, overcrowded subway car and ended as I crept away from my Manhattan office. Where I’d spend my free hours roaming amongst the endless blocks of restaurants, clubs, shops, and gatherings. Being relatively new to New York, I wanted to see everything, cross paths with everyone. World expansion, I always said, was my highest priority. Instead, like millions of people around the world, I quickly became confined within the walls of my apartment. My routine was contorted overnight.
During the early days of New York’s quarantine, I found myself anxious, living in what was referred to as the epicenter of the pandemic. I desperately sought ways to occupy my mind, filling time just to pull myself away from the steady stream of headlines spewing from my phone. And so I began taking walks. For hours on end, often starting in the early morning, through a new section of the city each day. And, out of desire for newer, greener scenery, these walks often led me to some public park in Brooklyn.
Day’s start versus end. Photos by Garrett Mireles and Langston Dillard.
Over the next few months, I spent hours migrating from one park to another, fully immersing myself in each of their perfectly simple ecosystems. I lounged on the vast, lush hills of Prospect Park, eating sourdough from the farmer’s market and flipping through Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower.” At Maria Hernandez, I sat on the sundrenched benches beneath the cherry blossoms, watching a fervid game of wall ball unfold at the courts. When I craved activity, I sprinted up and down the stone staircase at Fort Greene. (Then, for balance, I’d grab a burger and to-go negroni from Walter’s next door.) And when I wanted something a bit closer to home, I made my way to Bed-Stuy’s Herbert Von King Park.
Since 1915, Herbert Von King had grown to include a playground, a baseball field, an amphitheater, a few courts, and a dog park — all positioned around a sprawling open lawn. In short, it had all one could possibly need.
Herbert Von King quickly became my everything: my living room, coworking space, gym, and respite, conveniently packaged just blocks from my apartment. Every day, I rose with the sun and celebrated this shiny new routine, afforded to me by a neighborhood that I’d grown to love more than I thought possible.
Along with the sunny commute came an equally radiant network of strangers. At a concrete chess table, tucked away under a thick, green canopy, I’d recognize the same faces every morning. There was the father with the bright orange bandana across his face, struggling to manage his three small children; a group of five or so women who met every morning for a series of workouts that looked equal parts exhausting and exhilarating. Rarely did we exchange real words, but there was always room for acknowledgement; a smile from afar, as neighbors do, as if to say “I see you, and I’m glad you’re here.”
For the rest of the tumultuous summer, parks like these were home to an optimistic energy unlike anything in my recent memory. In a cultural moment marked by extreme isolation, they provided much-needed space for comfort and ease.
i don’t know these people, and perhaps i never will, but their presence embodies new york’s boundless and deeply romantic sense of community.
As the summer fades and New York grows cold once again, I’ve found my familiar, mindless routine yet again shifting before my eyes. Now, as Herbert Von King turns from lush green to yellow, I sit at the same chess table, now nested beneath a row of fragile, golden trees, and close my eyes. I listen in on people kickboxing by the playground, children running feet ahead of their parents, friends catching up over a socially distant coffee. Together they form a buzzing chorus, reminding me why I love this city. I don’t know these people, and, perhaps I never will, but their presence embodies New York’s boundless and deeply romantic sense of community. In a way, this community is the reason I came here. In a way, this community is my routine.
Based in New York City, Langston Dillard is a writer, publicist, and communications strategist. He likes dancing, making vibey playlists, and collecting lip balms.
Edited by Joanne Xu. Featured photos courtesy of Langston Dillard.
For more COVID-friendly spots, check out our new Guide to New York City.