Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Parking Up the Wrong Tree

Michael Powell has a incisive piece in the NY Times on the city's noxious effort to destroy Flushing Meadows Park:

"Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is a homely beauty, a many-acre stepchild of two World’s Fairs, stepping gingerly between noisy highways and stadiums and a polluted bay. All she possesses are a handsome Unisphere, a Hall of Science, a zoo, an art museum and tens of thousands of immigrant New Yorkers who pour out of the densely packed streets of Corona, Elmhurst, Flushing and Jackson Heights to run across her soccer fields, seek shade under her still-adolescent trees and stroll, bike and roller skate around her lakes."

The city has other ideas: "

"In pursuit of its Xanadu dream for Willets Point, it wants to let the owners of the Mets and the Related Companies build a huge shopping mall on the park’s western end, which admittedly is nothing more than a vast parking lot now. They are intent on letting the United States Tennis Association put up new parking lots and new roads. And, most perilous, city officials seem intent on letting Major League Soccer build a 25,000-seat stadium not on the park’s edge, but at its very core."

Powell is very much aware of the invidious class distinctions between how an immigrant park oasis like Flushing Meadow is treated-as opposed to parkland enjoyed by the gentry in Manhattan and Park Slope:

"It is a fact of 21st-century life that the upstairs/downstairs class divide applies with great force to New York City’s parks. To ride your bike from Brooklyn Bridge Park to Battery Park to Hudson River Park, and perhaps stop and take a stroll on the High Line, is to experience New York as Paris, beautifully kept parks with gardeners and omnipresent officers.

To ride out to the Shore Park by the Verrazano Bridge and east to Marine Park or to bike up to the city’s largest park Pelham Bay is often to bounce along roads as rutted as any in backwoods Vermont. I walked Flushing Meadows-Corona Park with Donovan Finn, a passionate 41-year-old resident of Jackson Heights and a professor of environmental studies at Stony Brook University. He pointed out lawns scarred by hardscrabble patches of dirt, soccer goal posts rusting, and the Fountain of the Planets surrounded by acres of asphalt."

This is such an outrage because it is coming from a man who can fly his own plane to anywhere in the world to relax and soak in the beauty of any number of exotic locals. But the South American immigrant from Corona doesn't have the luxury-and to further the outrage these immigrants are  being sold out by certain elected officials who don't possess an ounce of integrity. Where is the condemnation from CM Ferreras? We already know where St. Senator Peralta stands-right in the pocket of the developers.

WINS covered a community meeting on all this in Jackson Heights last night where Donovan Finn gave the folks the bad news:

"If some people get their way, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park could look a lot different in the future. That’s because there are proposals to expand The USTA National Tennis Center with two new stadiums, build a 25,000-seat professional soccer stadium, and construct a mall. “The worst part is that they’re all being proposed in the same park within a stone’s throw of one another,” 

CM Ferreras was in attendance but couldn't manage to simply state: "we're not letting the city take away your park." Instead she was reduced to mumbling platitudes about how the community will have "input." What a disgrace!

As Powell points out, this would never pass the smell test in Central Park:

"City officials hint at bags of cash for this plain beauty of a park; perhaps the soccer stadium could provide it with a revenue stream. The league might eventually rebuild even prettier fields. Maybe, perhaps, could be, some day.

Why have mayors not demanded that the United States Tennis Association and the taxpayer-subsidized New York Mets pay fees to this much-abused park? And would the mayor, whose mansion is steps from Central Park, conceive of asking the worthies on the Central Park Conservancy to underwrite its operations by placing a professional soccer stadium in Sheep Meadow?"

Four years ago when the mayor was still somewhat beholden to the electorate the city issued the following blueprint for Flushing Meadows:

"Four years ago, the parks department released a strategic plan for Flushing Meadows. It is a dispatch from a different, green-edged age of Bloomberg. It “re-envisions” a “new greener landscape” with less pavement, cleaned-up lakes and a spectacular Fountain of Industry edged by lawns and playgrounds. And it suggests that the city force baseball owners and tennis barons to ante up their fair share of fees."

Now Bloomberg doesn't even have to pretend. But the locals know the value of this park and how it is used by the community-and know when they are being sold out to the developers:

"Ask Olaris Gutierrez of Corona if her two children play in this park and she laughs. “Of course! All the time.”Is it crowded? Her eyes widen. “So crowded! On weekends, your elbows touch other elbows.”

In the best of all worlds Ms. Gutierrez's words would spur a call to action from the local electeds-maybe they still will so we'll give her the last word:
Ms. Gutierrez sat in that audience, desperate to hold to what’s left of her children’s shrinking park. She fears a done deal. “Why does the mayor come to Queens with this idea?” she asked. “People in Queens, we need good jobs, vacations, sick days and parks. We need beautiful, beautiful parks — just like people everywhere in this city.”