Seward Park is used primarily by older women, older men, and children ages 6-12. Regardless of which age group they belong to, most of the people who come to Seward Park regularly are of Chinese descent. Hence, there is a strong presence of foreign activities within the park. However, the types of activities vary strongly with the types of people we examine.
Many of the older Chinese population perform various physical activities throughout the park. While some visitors may assume these activities are “Tai Chi,” these are just simple stretches and routines. Some of the older Chinese enjoy walking around and viewing the weather and trees. Others use the fences and monkey bars to help with their stretching. In general, these people appear to come in on their own or with a partner.
However, the most conspicuous display that some visitors call “Tai Chi” is not really Tai Chi at all. It would be better called dance. Every morning, a group of women gather together to perform dance. The music typically has a loud modern Chinese music with a strong beat. Unlike the other solo exercisers, one woman leads and organizes the dances.
While these exercises are not Tai Chi, there are still people performing Tai Chi in the park.
The most recent 2001 reconstruction added features to the park such as new fencing, benches, and playground. These features are much appreciated by the stretchers and parents, people eating lunch, and all the children.
Seward Park was first established as a public playground, and it continues that tradition as a playground. The children playing on the swings and jungle gyms are the most significant aspect of the park’s activity levels. While parents often bring in their children, there are other organized institutes from around the area that take full advantage of the playgrounds.
Educational Alliance (EA), a non-profit organization first founded in 1889 to help Jewish immigrants settle into this foreign city, serves a more diverse group today. This Jewish organization now has expanded its customer target – from different religions and ethnicities to races and socioeconomic backgrounds – but still uses community-based programs like it did over a century ago. EA offers daycare services, and the daycare’s employees regularly send their group of children out to play in these playgrounds. The children, as far as we could observe, were mostly Chinese, and throughout the day, several other groups of children took their turn of recess.
Since it was originally intended to be a haven for children who needed a place to play, the park still maintains and fulfills its original purpose. The new spray showers, playgrounds, courts, and the many other features added at various points in its history do not reflect the change of immigrants living in the Lower East Side, but simply the growing number of children. All children, regardless of ethnicity, can appreciate its sets of slides and swings.
We have yet to see the younger generation get involved in any of the traditional activities performed by their elders. Children usually occupy themselves by playing on the swings and jungle gyms. Some parents bring their own children to the park, but the majority of the children come from EA. Veronica, a teacher at the daycare, explained that whenever the weather permits, they allow the children to play for an hour during recess. On occasion, the children are allowed to bring their lunches and eat at the park.