There are glowing seesaws in Midtown, and New Yorkers are losing it

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There are glowing seesaws in Midtown, and New Yorkers are losing it
People on Impulse seesaws between 37th and 38th Streets in New York on Jan. 24, 2020. The set of playground-inspired contraptions, known as Impulse, is the latest installation in the garment district Alliance’s yearlong public art program. Benjamin Norman/The New York Times.

by Aaron Randle

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE ).- On a recent Friday evening, huddles of adults were exuberantly reliving childhood, yelping and hollering with joy on one of the busiest streets in Manhattan.

The reason: a dozen illuminated seesaws in the middle of Broadway, between 37th and 38th streets.

The set of playground-inspired contraptions, known as Impulse, is the latest installation in the Garment District Alliance’s yearlong public art program. The seesaws arrived Jan. 6 and will stay until Saturday.

“I’ve heard screaming in midtown Manhattan before, and it’s never been a good thing,” said Barbara Blair, president of the Garment District Alliance. “But Impulse has people laughing and screaming and really enjoying themselves.”

Ranging in length from 16 to 24 feet, each of the seesaws glow from LED augmentation and emit musical sequences as riders bounce up and down. The sounds mingle with the shrieks and whoops of riders.

Morgan Smith, 18, and her friend Serena Pierre, also 18, noticed the seesaws a few weeks ago, and have returned to the installation twice. “It’s like a roller coaster,” Smith said. “It makes you channel your inner kid.”

Added Pierre: “I wish we had more art projects like it.”

This is the 18th art piece the Alliance has installed since 2010 as part of its Art on the Plaza program aimed at enhancing the pedestrian experience year-round.

“The winter in New York can feel so dark and cold and long,” Blair said. “We thought this particular piece would be a mental and psychological boost.”

Seesaws are now a rare sight in the city.

Between 1934 and 1960, seesaws were installed on more than 600 playgrounds. But these fixtures have largely vanished from the city because of safety concerns.

The wooden planks would often slam directly into the asphalt below, causing a rash of accidents for riders, from pinched fingers to tailbone and spinal injuries.

Hardly any seesaws have been installed in the past 30 years, after federal guidelines began limiting their use in 1981, according to a New York City Department of Parks and Recreation official.

Still, they have a certain appeal.

Sitting on the seesaw is part exercise in trust (often in a complete stranger), part escapism.

Tightening the straps on Gucci purses, tucking in sneaker laces and securing wallets (and wigs), riders push off. Slowly and cautiously at first.

Then, after a few lifts into the air: elation.

Arms and legs splay out as riders rise into the air, the lights of Times Square twinkling in the distance. Giggles transform to screeches, then howls. A street perhaps more known for “Excuse me” and “I’m walking here” was instead filled with “Whoa” and “Woo-hoo!”

An array of ages, races and backgrounds, all stealing a moment to leave the troubles of the ground behind.

For some, it was nostalgic.

Sandra Lindum and Deirdre Amendolaro said they each brought their children to the art exhibit so the young ones could experience a piece of New York that’s become increasingly hard to find.

“I remember when we could just run outside and jump on one of these old rusty things,” said Lindum, who grew up in Queens. “Now they’re art. It’s the new New York, I guess,” she added with a giggle.

Arianna Rosario, 26, said she was walking along Broadway with her friends Nikita Nelson and Stephanie Centeno when she spotted the dazzling lights of the seesaws — and the ecstatic sounds of riders. “It’s fun to be that high up. It brings you back to your childhood,” Rosario said.

While riding the seesaw with Nelson, 24, (and being recorded by Centeno, 26), Rosario lost her balance and fell to the pavement below on Broadway.

Erupting with laughter, she jumped up, brushed herself off and hopped back on the seesaw.

“I can’t stop doing it,” she said with a grin. “This is addicting.”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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