Late Summer Scene: Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park

Marcus Garvey Park

Marcus Garvey’s perimeter is bound by an imposing iron fence. (Christine Chung/NY City Lens)

During the summer, New Yorkers are in search of respite. They’re looking for a hiatus from the claustrophobia of the subway and inevitably, come August, the soaring temperatures. Some New Yorkers find that respite in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park.

The park tends to come alive in the summer months. Locals catch up with neighbors, listen to live jazz, play in Little League matches, picnic on the green lawns, romp in the playground, and cool off in the pool. Despite the neighborly feel of the park, it’s not immune from the problems of the surrounding area. At an expansive 20 acres, the park is a hilly retreat that houses many activities, including illegal ones. Just steps away from where children take dips in the pool, glassine bags litter the stairs.

On hot summer days, the city’s pools are generally full and lively. But today, with the temperature at a balmy 77, Marcus Garvey’s Olympic sized pool is serene. A few kids clad in plastic floaties tentatively take to the pool; several serious swimmers swim laps while the less aquatic sun themselves on the concrete.

It’s a halcyon scene. A father teaches his young son how to float, but the toddler is more interested in blowing bubbles. A group of adult swimmers huddles outside the pool, shivering while discussing what’s for lunch. A lifeguard languidly perched up high interrupts swimmers to remind them that the pool closes in an hour.

The pool is encircled by an imposing iron fence, to keep some people in and others out. A sturdy combination lock for each locker is mandatory for entrance, and the use of electronic devices is strongly discouraged. There are no fewer than 15 rules plastered outside the pool’s walls. Only swimmers are allowed to enter the pool directly. According to one park employee, who preferred to remain unnamed, the main reasons are to discourage the park’s homeless population from entering. For these people, the only view is from the outside.