Thursday, November 24, 2011

Give My Regards to Sandke

Much Respect to the Giant

"We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours." 

John of Salisbury, 12th century theologian and author

I felt as if I stumbled upon a hidden treasure trove when I found out about Jordan Sandke's hard work in establishing the Rockaway Beach Branch Greenway Committee, only to be heart-broken when all of these connections and plans failed, through no fault of his own, but by the powers that reside in community boards and the other political powers that be. 

Because this land stretches across so many Queens community board boundaries, naturally (or in some cases unnaturally) there are opposing agendas in mind, without any compromise thus far (though of recent I have come across some ideas that are a fusion of a speedrail and a park). Can rails and trails live in harmony in this area? Is that really a possibility when the tracks are elevated in some parts and on packed dirt in others? 

In a 1996 article by  Beauty Mark, Yes; Landmark, No
THE call to create a park on the High Line, an elevated course of disused railroad tracks in Manhattan, has resonated in Richmond Hill, a hidden-away spot of elegant wood-frame homes and hushed streets in south-central Queens. 
Richmond Hill, too, has abandoned tracks, running along its western edge, part of a line that used to run to Rockaway Beach. And a number of residents support the idea of ripping out the elevated tracks to install a bike and hike path. 
Standing on Park Lane South, near 101st Street, looking up at the bridge, which used to carry trains but now supports young trees whose leaves shimmer gold and russet, it is easy to see the appeal of this proposal. If the path is eventually built, it will come almost as a grace note in Richmond Hill, which abuts woodsy Forest Park, with its horse-riding trails, carousel and golf course. 
Living In: Richmond Hill, Queens 
Jordan Sandke, chairman of the Rockaway Beach Branch Greenway Committee, unveiled the rails-to-trails idea to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation last March, and now must figure out a way to win over naysayers. 
“This is like a small upstate town that hasn’t changed in 50 years,” said Mr. Sandke, who teaches high school music and English in Long Island City. “There’s a deep respect for protecting it. Even the new people are sensitive to the character of the neighborhood.”
Mr. Sandke considers himself one of the new people — despite having moved to the neighborhood in 1997 from Astoria, Queens — because so many Richmond Hill residents have stuck around for decades. If the old-timers move at all, he said, it is often just a few houses over.
The City: Not Everyone Is Bike-Friendly (2 Letters) 
 September 10, 2006
To the Editor:
In a Sept. 3 letter (“New York Is Bike-Friendly”), Ryan Russo, the Department of Transportation’s director for street management and safety, states that he and his colleagues “have to work hard to win local support for the bike lanes, as there is often significant community board and elected official opposition to these plans.” 
We have been working for two years with Queens Community Board 9 to establish a bike path on the long-abandoned city-owned former Long Island Rail Road Rockaway Beach Branch right of way. Returning it to public use as a greenway would seem to be a no-brainer, especially considering it was on the city’s 1997 greenway master plan. 
The city, however, has been less than helpful. Last year the Department of City Planning obtained funding for a feasibility study for this proposal, but could not go ahead because they were unable to secure a required “implementation partner,” even though they approached the obvious choices: the Parks Department and Department of Transportation. We ourselves were rebuffed in a meeting with officials from the Parks Department, who suggested that we assume full responsibility for conducting a study and amassing the funds for implementation. 
Mr. Russo has our support. Do we have his? 
Jordan Sandke
Richmond Hill, Queens
The writer is chairman, Rockaway Beach Branch Greenway Committee.
To the Editor: 
It’s great that the Department of Transportation is adding bike lanes to the streets of the city. 
Now if it could just persuade cyclists to use them instead of ignoring red lights, riding the wrong way on one-way streets, or on the sidewalk, and in general behaving as if traffic regulations do not apply to them. 
David Vaughan
East Village

Ivan Pereira's March 22, 2007 article, Community Board Rejects Rails-To-Trails Proposal is another heart-breaker:
After months of heated debate, members of Community Board 6 rejected a proposal last week to convert an abandoned railway running through their neighborhood into a greenway and bike path.
Up for debate on March 14 was whether to renovate an abandoned, graffiti-littered Long Island Rail Road right-of-way — which runs more than three miles between Rego Park and Ozone Park — into a lush greenway for pedestrians and cyclists. 
At an earlier board meeting, advocates of the project asked members to support a feasibility study for the greenway. But sharp division over the plan prompted Vice Chairwoman Elizabeth Anderson to convene a special committee to review the facts before making a final decision, members said. 
Even after two months of deliberation, however, the committee could only reach a split decision, Anderson said. “Despite all our work and discussion, the committee was unable to come to a resolution,” she said. 
Board members opposing the study, worried the greenway — which runs adjacent to many homes in Rego Park — would bring more crime, litter and civil disturbances to the area. But members in favor of the study said a cleaner greenway would improve the quality of life for nearby residents. 
With the committee split, the board wasted little time delving into deliberations at its last meeting. 
Some members supported the feasibility study, arguing that it would give the board a better idea of what effect the greenway would have on its neighbors. “We’ve discussed several possibilities … but we don’t even know who really owns the property,” said board member Robert Silver. “Until we can actually find what’s being done, we’re just spinning our wheels.”
Other board members were reluctant to sign off on the study, fearing that other civic groups and community boards would misconstrue their endorsement as a stamp of approval for the greenway. “If you vote in favor of (the study), it sends the message that ‘I’m in’ (for the plan) … and no one can convince me otherwise’,” said Board Chairman Joseph Hennessy. 
Anderson made an amendment that added language to the proposal clarifying that any approval of a feasibility study would not mean the board agrees with the overall plan. “I want people to focus on the word ‘study’,” she asserted. “It’s just a study. We’re trying to get info.” 
Still, some members insisted that the study — which does not need the board’s approval to be implemented — was irrelevant from the start. If anything, critics said, the board should be voting to approve or reject the plan in its entirety. “We are already losing residents because of the noise in the community,” said board member Nancy Cohen, “and if we lose peace in our backyards, we’ll see our community decline.” 
Board member Barbara Stuchinski agreed, adding that several entities that already use land near the old tracks — including a parking garage near the Stop & Shop on Union Turnpike and the Forest Hills Youth Little League — would be relocated or removed by portions of the greenway that are on ground level. 
In the end, the board voted against the study 15 to 9. 
Jordan Sandke, director of the Rockaway Beach Branch Committee, which first proposed the greenway, said he was not surprised by the outcome. He added that even though the study did not require the board’s approval, he certainly would have enjoyed its support when seeking approval from city officials. 
“No matter what the outcome, it was good, because at least it was talked about with the people,” he said.


While this may all seem terribly sad, that all these efforts were pushed aside, there is still hope for these ideas to be implemented as the debate for a Queens Highline continue to this day. In the last two weeks, a few members of the Rockaway Beach Branch Committee have reached out to me, letting me know that I am not alone. They also invited me to a community board meeting, which I cannot wait to participate in!

I just want to simply say Thank You!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Design for the Hood

What Do You Want Your Hood to Look Like?

"I wanted to mention this project as being important to people taking control of their own communities. Far too often, a group of "experts" are brought in to a community and then decide what it should look like, leaving the community to either like or battle from the weakest position about what was already decided.

People must STAND UP, envision, and DEMAND what configuration, services & uses the futures of their communities will have. Otherwise, you will fall victim to the power-brokers who are only thinking about how much they can make on [Y]OUR community. Bed-Stuy is the latest one to be the target of these forces. In addition, communities of people of color, in particular, have traditionally been altered, overrun, and destroyed by these forces.

STOP the cycle...STOP the infantilization process that keeps us begging for services in our communities." - 
Darryl Montgomery-Hell of sektor 6 kommunications

Darryl brings up a poignant topic on the issue of the control we have (or give up by default) when it comes to where we live and what we choose by voting with our dollars and our voices.

What can you do right now to inspire more community action?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New Friends for the Queens Highline

Great Minds Do Think Alike!

Photo by William Richard Seqeira
Friend and fellow environmentalist Gil Lopez found Alissa Wassung's post about creating A "Highline-like" project to turn the abandoned elevated subway track around the Rockaway Blvd stop on the A-line into a community produce garden on Change by US NYC. Since then I have reached out to Alissa and utterly pleased to find yet another Queens resident who is passionate about creating a green space out of the abandoned railroad.

I also came across William Richard Sequeira through a previous post on this blog, sharing his experience on this space:

"Hey Anandi, glad to see someone take the first steps in making the Queens Highline Park a reality in the future. Over the past summer I’ve been mountain biking at Forest Park on a weekly basis as a recreational sport and one day came across the abandon LIRR tracks where I grew curiosity to know where the tracks would end. In lure of a small adventure I decided the next day I would come with a friend and hike to the end of the line and maybe explore some artifacts left behind from the old railroad. Even though there could have been the possibility of encountering snakes, bats or raccoons due to all the fallen trees and obstacles along the way I felt confident enough to get by with my current experience walking railroad tracks as a NYC Transit employee. At the end of about 2 miles just past the overpass of NYC Transit’s in service A line at Rockaway Blvd all that was left was a few scratches, some mosquito bites, and the experience of hiking the future Queens High Line Park. Anandi, as an advocate for more mountain bike trails in the city, you have my total support in making this project a reality as I see it adding great value to the borough of Queens."

 and some of the photos from his collection:

And that's not all! Peter W. Beadle and the Rockaway Beach Branch Greenway Committee contacted me through facebook and a lovely email sent via to Joe Anuta after the Make unused Rockaway LIRR into greenspace: Activist article posted this weekend. I was so excited to find someone from the group that has been working on a proposal as my previous emails to them had bounced a few years ago and again most recently. Ivan Mrakovcic, a Community Board 9 member, wants a bike path on the tracks is also on the Rockaway Beach Branch Committee.

A post on the Sustainability Practice Network (SPN) blog inspired a response from a couple other Yay-Sayers:

  • Carlos Martinez, a Parks employee and resident of Jackson Heights, offered resources such as Partnerships for Parks's new program called People Make Parks
  • Mark Anthony ThomasDirector at City Limits stated, "This sounds great. and asked me to consider writing a piece for City Conversations. Hmm, you know, I think I might just do that :)
Needless to say, countless others continue to show support by commenting, sharing ideas, visions, and inspiring others like Michael Perlman and Russel Nelson. Thank you all!

Do you have any stories or photos to share? Let's talk!

Making Headlines

Make unused Rockaway LIRR into greenspace: Activist

Photo by Joe Anuta

Joe Anuta of the Times Ledger saw my tweets about the #QueensHighline and wanted to know more. We exchanged some conversations via email and phone. And then he wrote this piece: 

Make unused Rockaway LIRR into greenspace: Activist

I think his article that ran this week pretty much summed up the vision, helped others who are working on this proposal seek me out. I also started the Facebook Group (along with a strong suggestion by Michael Perlman!) to gather even more public support for this project. All are welcome to join as it's an open group and might have a larger audience than this is free-floating blog.

The Queens Crap posted Anuta's piece and received many comments: The Queens High Line?

Also The Sub Chat posted Anuta's article and gathered a large discussion about this proposal, most are for the rails being revitalized, think that Queens has enough parks or worry that a park in this area will breed rapists, muggers and other violent creatures.

What I want to know is: Why do some individuals get so nasty or hateful about green space and super defensive about cars or resurrected rails? There are parks or green spaces on nearly ever other block in Manhattan. Why argue against a greener and greater Queens?

What are your two cents?