tampabay.com

A river walk can run beyond river

By SANDRA THOMPSON
Published July 15, 2006


NEW YORK - While Tampa has ignored the river running through it, Manhattan, which has more of everything, had two rivers to ignore. The East River was good only for the "riv vu" in real estate terms. The actual river was not to be experienced at sea level.

The Hudson River was kind of a sad joke. Pete Seeger sailed up and down, singing about it, but the in the city, we'd given it up for dead. The closest I ever got to the Hudson was the Gansevoort Street Pier where as a last resort on a hot summer day you could hang out, sit on the edge and look at New Jersey. No one sane went in or near the actual water.

So it was a surprise last week when urban folk in Outward Bound gear waited in line for the city's offer of free kayaks to paddle on the Hudson. In Riverside Park and the Hudson River Park there are literally miles of free stuff to do. RiverFlicks at a downtown pier focuses on "The Mean Streets of Summer." Uptown, another festival's theme is water, kicking off with On the Waterfront.

The River to River Festival up, down and around the Hudson and East Rivers has a lineup of live entertainment, eclectic to say the least - and it's all free. Classical violin to Japanese punk rock, roving period theater, contemporary dance performed in a "Laundromatinee," with dancers swirling in washers and dryers and hanging from close lines.

And if you're thinking, that's New York, Tampa isn't New York, well, get this. There is some jealousy on the part of New Yorkers that Hoboken's river film festival has a lineup of almost-first run movies, Brokeback Mountain, this week.

We can be Hoboken, can't we?

In Riverside Park on the Upper West Side, Studio in the Park is actually a dozen or so outdoor art installations placed strategically along the, well, I have to say it, river walk. It goes on for miles, unannounced and is so interactive with the urban river landscape you could miss it. A conglomeration of orange balls floating in the river was noticeable only because the rest of the water was clear of junk. You would have never noticed it at the foot of our Bayshore Boulevard.

A lesson for Tampa: A river walk can diverge from the actual river. You don't have to do amazing engineering feats to get past obstacles. At the West Side Highway, the walk along the Hudson detours for several blocks from the river's edge into Riverside Park, the once grubby green space adjoining the river that has been miraculously reborn with shady playgrounds, gorgeous flowers, dog runs, even a "passive garden" where a sign tells you not to play ball but just sit, picnic or read.

But of course I didn't take the detour. It looked like you could walk through on a dirt path, so I took that route. The path got narrower and narrower until you almost needed a mule, and the West Side Highway traffic whizzed past inches to my left. It was scary but instructive. The homeless had found this untrod land and set up homesteads. One had made a triangular tent out of tarp.

On the way back, I took the accepted route. That's where the art was, anyway. And I didn't even miss the river.

Sandra Thompson, a Tampa writer, can be reached at sthompson125@tampabay.rr.com City Life appears on Saturday.