Hilary Klein, director of strategic campaigns with Make the Road New York, says now is the time for the city to recognize the significance of the 898-acre park.
“This park deserves the best, it deserves equal treatment with other great parks in New York City, it should be well cared for and well loved,” Klein said. “The folks that live around that park deserve that from our city.”
On Friday, June 6, residents joined members of Make the Road New York on the steps of City Hall to voice their concerns the same day the City Council’s Parks Committee held an oversight hearing on Flushing Meadows.
Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr. joined the rally prior to the hearing to criticize the city for entertaining the possibility of granting parkland to Major League Soccer (MLS) for a new stadium, as well as supporting an expansion for the United States Tennis Association.
“Our parks in Queens have been sorely neglected and these proposals for our parkland rise out of the fact that our parks are neglected,” Vallone said. “Can you imagine our city saying they would give our parkland in Manhattan or in Brooklyn away to a sheik for one dollar because it’s in such bad shape? They would never have allowed it to get in that shape.”
Vallone called on the city to remain accountable for their approach in dealing with the park.
“You have to do your job, city,” he said. “You have to take care of our city’s parks in every borough, not just in Manhattan.”
Elena Conte, senior organizer for planning and policy with Pratt Center for Community Development, released a report that her and a number of graduate students from the Pratt Institute conducted earlier this year.
They found that the park saves users $23 million annually that would otherwise be spent in gyms. The report also found that the park also protects the surrounding neighborhoods from storm surges.
“We know that the open space access that exists in those communities is far below the city standard for what is safe and healthy, less than a tenth of an acre per 1,000 residents in Corona,” Conte said.
The students surveyed over 100 park users at an interactive community workshop at the Queens Museum in April.
“The major finding is that people need the active recreation space, they need the park to be maintained, and that they don’t want the parkland misused,” she said.
Queens resident and Make the Road New York board member Claudio Idrovo has used the park for the last 13 years, organizing rock concerts and participating in various sporting activities.
He also takes his wheelchair-stricken brother to the park from the Park Terrace Nursing Home on Van Doren Street, a tradition Idrovo feels might be lost if attention is no longer given to preserving the park.
“I’m very concerned now that the investors, with the blessing of Michael Bloomberg, have started looking at the park and thinking about taking space away from us,” he said. “They want to replace that with their private projects which would generate profit for them, but affect the community negatively, especially the ones who need the park so urgently.”
Community Board 3 member Edwin O’Keefe Westly said the park should no longer be looked at as an afterthought.
“It’s the biggest park in Queens and if you go there on any given weekend, it’s loaded with people enjoying sports and social activities,” he said. “It’s really the people’s park of Queens.”