Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mission Possible

Visualize it and It will Happen!

Here are the renderings from Urban Design Week. I’m not sure why they didn't call it the Queens Highline, but these sketches look pretty good and incorporated most of the ideas desired. I wish we had an opportunity to communicate with the designers and architects who worked on our ideas.

South Queens GREENway by Jennifer Cromie / Newtownards, UK

Rockaway Greenway Queens by Achva Benzinberg Stein / New York, NY:

And then I was asked to speak...

Queens Museum of Art had a presentation of five of the best ideas & designs that address urban challenges relevant to both New York City & Detroit through the By the City / For the City project which invited architects, planners, artists, designers, and students around the world to participate in a collaborative re-imagining of New York City’s public realm on Sunday, Sept 18th: By the City / For the City QNS - An Urban Design Week Event

I was asked to speak for a few minutes and make a case for creating public spaces in unusual places. I gave a 5 minute presentation which I won't post right now as I'm adding charts and facts as I gather more pertinent information, especially focusing on the historical preservation, the value to the community and the need for such a space in Central to South Queens to create more awareness as to why restoration is essential and to build interest in this valuable space sooner rather than later.

What do you think of the renderings?

Monday, October 17, 2011

By the City / For the City

Answering the Call

I submitted a couple of ideas, including the Queens Highline when the Institute for Urban Design launched their Ideas Competition to Imagine the Future of NYC: By the City/ For the City where they sought to "gather up everyone's ideas: from local parks and squares to citywide issues like transit and pollution, what needs a re-design?" And offered a virtual space where we could "explore, discuss, and debate everyone's ideas."

By AAPremlall, Oct 2011

#284 Wouldn’t it be great if...The old, abandoned LIRR running from Forest Park to Rockaway Beach was turned into a simpler version of the HighLine with native plants, an edible garden, along with a bike and pedestrian path?

Where: 99th Street from Forest Park to Howard Beach (actually the unused part only goes to the intersection of Rockaway Boulevard & Liberty Avenue).

So that people could...enjoy more safer green spaces, reduce traffic across Queens, garden and spend time with the community through public programs. We could definitely use a park in this neighborhood!

Because I want the city to be...more bike and pedestrian friendly and safer over all. The area under these tracked are filled with makeshift garages, the surrounding area doesn't look very safe or welcoming for anyone walking or jogging. This area is highly underutilized and could make the neighborhood more beautiful.

#283 Wouldn’t it be great if...there were more organic, edible community gardens as they are far and few in neighborhoods I grew up in. If they can be on rooftops that would be awesome and would utilize unused space.

Where: South Queens (Richmond Hill, South Richmond Hill,Forest Hills/Kew Gardens, Ozone Park, South Ozone Park, Jamaica, South Jamaica, Far Rockaway)

So that people could...enjoy fresh affordable produce, connect with their communities, the earth, save money and live healthier lives.

Because I want the city to be...nourishing & flourishing, with food devoid of GMO's and harmful pesticides. As you can see from the attached links, we have very few community gardens in South Queens.

#445 Wouldn’t it be great if...No Trace Left Behind was incorporated into all public spaces? (Oops that should be Leave No Trace, but you get it).

Where: All of New York City

So that people maintain parks by learning to clean up after themselves though required service for using these spaces; use less single-use items (disposable plates, cups, utensils), and to compost organic waste so that we can ALL enjoy the beauty of our parks without being bombarded with trash, plastic bags, styrofoam and other garbage interrupting the landscape. It's really heartbreaking to those who do participate in beach/park clean-ups regularly and see how they're ruining our public spaces.
Because I want the city to be...beautiful, cleaner and contribute less trash to landfills; to be welcoming to all visitors, an example of how nature thrives in urban settings.

And here are a few honorable mentions:

#446 Wouldn’t it be great if...we had more CLEAN, public bathrooms that anyone can use

#447 Wouldn’t it be great if...there were more art studios and galleries

#577 Wouldn’t it be great if...all pubic schools were retrofit with green infrastructure, including a green roof and edible learning gardens?

You can view various reports from IfUD including the borough breakdown:

Queens residents shared 87 ideas for their borough (18% of the total). With 24 of those ideas relating to Recreation (31.5% of all ideas in that category), this was one of the only issues where an outer borough captured the largest percentage of ideas across the city. The top five categories across Queens were: Transportation; Green Space; Streetscapes; Recreation; and Culture/Public Art.

How would you improve on these ideas? What are yours?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Doctor's Orders!

Walk Two Trails and Call Me in the Morning!

Rails to Trails simply rocked my socks with their latest newsletter raving about the need for public spaces in areas like New York City. In fact, there have been a few articles from other sources about making of the Highline Park and how beneficial it is to the economy and those who enjoy this park in the sky (stay tuned for a dedicated post on the Guardian write up).

A sad but true statistic of how incredibly sedentary our lives have become: "Almost half of all urban trips in the United States are less than two miles, but almost all of these are taken by car. By choosing to walk rather than drive just a few times a week, we can all make a big difference to our personal health. Many doctors now believe that walking just 150 minutes a week can have marked impact on treating a range of problems, from depression to high blood pressure."

It seems counterproductive to go for a walk when the toxic fumes and noise from buses, trucks and cars overwhelm the streets and make it anything but relaxing. Unless you take the Q41 over to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge or the Q11 to Forest Park, there aren't safe and soothing spaces to walk in South Queens. The tracks in public school yards are closed to the public (yes, I checked). The therapeutic benefits of nature definitely won't kick when you're hitting the pavement around these parts.

"Over the past 50 years we have built landscapes that work for cars but not always for people. In many communities it is inconvenient, or even dangerous, to go for a walk, to try and live an active lifestyle, " stated RTC President Keith Laughlin. I'm not going to call any names ;)

More often than not, parents who live within ten blocks are driving their cars when dropping off and picking up their children from school (which, in my humble opinion, is not a far walk at all and would help to instill healthy habits and bonding time). You cannot tell me you haven't noticed the back-to-back traffic around elementary schools!

I fondly remember my grandpa walking my brothers, cousin and I to P.S. 55 every morning. And sometimes our neighbor's dog Romeo followed us all the way. Grandpa waited until we went inside, walked back home to 125 Street. Then he magically appeared again at 3:00PM to walk us back those 10 blocks. I relished those afternoons, finding treasures of acorns and colorful leaves, which I secretly tucked away into my dad's brown corduroy sport jacket as I skipped along the cracked sidewalks.

Laughlin's words are music to my ears, "At the local level, people are yearning for investments in their cities and towns that make them more livable and walkable." In other words, let's do this!

"The testimony of medical professionals is now adding to the growing weight of evidence that investing in biking and walking infrastructure will not only save the nation billions in reduced oil consumption and environmental mitigation, but also slash wasteful health care expenditure." What a fantastic argument to make for the Queens Highline (or any public space for that matter). I'm sure the Department of Transportation is thrilled to hear this!

On this happy and healthy note, I look forward to day when the Rail to Trails crew, our Mayor, Borough President, City Council Members, Community Boards and even the President of the United States come to my neighborhood for a walking tour of the Queens 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Why Now? Why Not?

A Railroad Grows (and Grows!) in Queens

Jacek Yerka
I used to live right across from the end of the abandoned railroad that could be developed (by 99th Street and Rockaway Boulevard) and used to stare out my windows, wondering why nothing has been done to make better use of this currently wasted space. Then I thought how nice it would have been if I could just walk all the way down to Forest Park undisturbed. It was then that my curiosity go the best of me and I really asking questions and finding ways to make it happen.

Of course, the Highline Park becoming a reality in Manhattan gave me hope that this space didn't have to remain an eye sore and I did't have to feel eerie walking by the lonely streets with make-shift garages, sketchy characters and various businesses underneath: from auto-body shops to propane and poultry.

My vision for the Queens Highline more along the gritty and green side. Like Russ Nelson said in a previous post, it would be very community oriented, where we can all literally lend a hand in creating and caring for this park and build an open space for all to enjoy, where we feel safe walking, running, biking, or just relaxing with a cup of coffee or tea.

Perhaps it would motivate more residents will leave their cars home and to come out and explore their new backyard. Wouldn't a bit of solace closer to home be nice?

Here's the dream:
  • Beautiful native gardens designed by Marielle Anzelone of NYC Wildflower Week
  • Edible landscapes thriving with Newtown Pippins and complimentary pollinators, perhaps beach plums and other "wild edibles" designed by Gil Lopez of Nourishing Cities where Wild Man Steve Brill can lead foraging tours
  • With the help of advocates like Geoffrey Croft, Michael Perlman and other community leaders and residents, I truly believe that we will make this happen
  • Learning gardens like those of Rabindranath Tagore where the local artists share their talents
  • Health and fitness programs: yoga, meditation, tai chi, intensati, ayurvedic nutrition
  • Cultural programs reflecting the rich, diverse community of Central and South Queens
  • Initiatives that support sustainable lifestyles and foster community building
  • A compost demonstration site as part of NYC Compost Project in Queens
MTNYC Tree Planting in Far Rockaway
All in all, we're re-creating the community life that has been dwindling over the years with busy households who have hardly any time to enjoy a meal together. This is especially poignant right now where the new graduates, unemployed and underemployed (aka the 99%) are searching for something more substantial in their lives.

I certainly miss the days when children played hopscotch, basketball, hide-and-seek and other games with each other in the streets, when the ice cream truck could be heard blocks away, and we lined up for what seemed like forever with sweaty dollars and hungry bellies awaiting swirly cones with rainbow sprinkles.

Shall we, once again, embrace the beauty of the slow life, where we stop to savor the sweet moments, among the blur of this fast-paced city?

My Vision

Do You See What I See?

Photo by AAPremlall

This is what I see but not what I dream of seeing
Trees sprung from decaying tracks like phantom limbs
Sheltering debris, horizontal trunks and mysterious remains
Rarely do feet run upon the rails where trains did once
Semi-moist leaves and hungry mosquitoes lay waiting
For the curious trespassers who dare to claim
This land is my land
This land is your land
From one end of Forest Park 
All the way to Rockaway Boulevard

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Yay or Nay?

New Rails or New Trails?

Photo by AAPremlall

There has been much debate about what the Queens community wants and the LIRR has in store for this beautiful, crumbling abandoned railroad. 

I cannot say I wasn't delighted to read The Wave's article: MTA Derails Rockaway LIRR Plan

A study revealed that "the replacement of New York City Transit subway service to Far Rockaway with LIRR service and a restored Rockaway Beach Branch to White Pot Junction, while retaining NYC Transit service to Rockaway Park, "would be no net benefit to Rockaway commuters." The report states that 68 percent of Rockaway commuters who have destinations other than midtown Manhattan would not be served and the travel times of Far Rockaway commuters destined for lower Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn, and other areas of Queens would increase. The study further identified the following as reasons why the proposal was not feasible: LIRR track and terminal capacity constraints would limit or preclude LIRR Rockaway service in critical peak periods; the construction of a required new two-track trestle across Jamaica Bay would impact environmentally sensitive wetland areas; and the cost for construction is high, estimated to be $875 million.

"Face it, easy access to JFK is a smokescreen for what planners really want: increased commuter service for wealthy Long Islanders who work in the Financial District. Since the Rockaway Branch can't provide that, it's best future is as a bicycle path," commented Michael Deitsch succinctly after examining both sides in his blog.

Supportive actions have been made as indicated in Dreams and Schemes for an Abandoned Rail Line: "A bikeway would take this old, abandoned ugly structure and, if you have tree plantings on it and you could beautify it, it would add to the community," said Mary Ann Carey, district manager of Board 9. "It's not something that's going to happen overnight, but we know there is precedent for it." and "That line runs right behind all our homes and properties on 98th Street," Ms. Maria Thomson, Executive Director of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation said, "and if it were reactivated, it would be a hazard to the residents and their quality of life."

And some semi-supportive ones as well: "A bike path for the next 20 or 30 years might not be so bad," Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, said. "It's a very comfortable use for it in comparison to selling it and putting a building on it. But I'd really like to reactivate it."

What do you think? Would a park in this area be worthwhile? Looking forward to your insights!

Once Upon a Time

Back in the day, the now abandoned LIRR site in South Queens was quite the looker:

In the early days of the IND subway line, there was a plan to attach the LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch line to the IND subway. However, the Depression forced the IND to shelve that plan...but not before installing signage in some of its stations pointing to a Rockaway connection that was never built!

So, the line remained with the LIRR until 1953. Frequent fires on the wooden trestle crossing Jamaica Bay impelled the LIRR to toss in the towel on the old line. It was purchased by New York City, which rebuilt the tracks and began subway service to the Rockaways in 1956.

The northern end of the line above Liberty Avenue remained in service until 1962, when declining patronage convinced the LIRR to close it down.

The right of way of the old line has remained surprisingly intact over the years, and in some places, tracks and overpasses are still in place. This has given some transit visionaries the idea to reactivate it as a one-seat ride to JFK Airport, but since it now runs through a residential neighborhood, it's unlikely that the locals will allow that to happen.

The branch of the LIRR we walked on was constructed in 1908-09 and connected the LIRR with the Rockaway Peninsula. It diverged from the main line at a point just east of the 63rd Drive overpass known as the Whitepot Underjump. The branch point wasn't called a 'junction' because northbound trains passed into a short tunnel under the main line and then merged. All of the Rockaway Branch featured state of the art appointments, which meant no grade crossings, electrification and signals. Most of the branch was on an embankment or elevated over main streets.

The Rockaway Branch featured stations at Grand Street (now Grand Avenue), Rego Park (which were on the Main Line but were stops only for Rockaway Branch trains), Parkside, Brooklyn Manor, Woodhaven [Junction], Ozone Park, Aqueduct, Howard Beach, Hamilton Beach, Goose Creek, The Raunt, Broad Channel, and the myriad stations on the peninsula. Many of the stations were of wooden construction, and no trace of them remains today except a widening of the space between trackways. Two stations made of concrete, Woodhaven and Ozone Park, are still there. In 1956, Aqueduct, Howard Beach, Broad Channel and the peninsula stations were taken over by the TA as subway stations.

Sources: Herbert George, Change At Ozone Park, © 1993 RAE Publishing

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Highline Grows in Queens

A Highline Grows in Queens

Did you know that there is a Long Island Rail Road track in South East Queens that starts at Forest Park and extends to the intersection of Rockaway Boulevard and Liberty Avenue? This track has been left abandoned for over 50 years!

Photo by Timothy Vogel (Pro-Zac)
How is it possible that a 1.5 mile stretch of real estate, a rare and very valuable commodity, especially in New York City, has been left untouched and out of reach in a neighborhood that could very well use this public space?