By Athena Dawson | [email protected]
On Saturday, December 16th, members of Chhaya Community Development Corporation (CDC) held a Winter Festival event at Lt. Frank McConnell Park, in Richmond Hill. The event aimed to open a dialogue between the organization and residents about how the park could be turned into a more active community space.
Chhaya CDC serves low to moderate income New Yorkers and provides services around homeownership and economic well being. The organization primarily services the Jackson Heights, Richmond Hill, and Ozone Park communities with an emphasis on South Asian and Indo-Caribbean residents.
Members of Chhaya CDC and their urban design partner organizations, Hive Public Space and Studio Fōr, gave out samosas and warm chai, and manned an arts and craft table for families that stopped by.
Jessica Balgovin, special initiatives manager for Chhaya CDC, said the event is a part of an ongoing community project. “We want to bring more community to the space and bring more programming and make it more accessible. We’ve observed that there is a real lack of accessible public space in Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park,” Balgovin said.
Balgovin feels the park has the potential to be an even bigger community space in Richmond Hill. One of the goals for the event was to poll residents on how they felt the park could be utilized to bring the community together.
“One of the biggest things we are doing today is to get people to fill out our community experience survey. We’re asking folks specific questions about Frank Mcconnell park. We have a storytelling station where people are sharing their ideas about the park and their experiences,” she said.
Alexandra Gonzalez, co-founder of Hive Public Space, explained how important it is to make public spaces racially and culturally inclusive. “We want to make sure that the spaces reflect the type of communities they are in, and the programming feels like a reflection of the people and the types of things they want to do. We’re getting really good feedback and we are seeing that kids want to do a lot of programming,” she said.
Gonzalez noted that so far, their data shows that residents are interested in a community garden and arts and craft events for kids in the park. “We’re definitely seeing that a community garden and art programming is what people are leaning towards,” she said. “We definitely want to have something like a class that will be a continuous thing.”
The polling and community outreach is a part of an ongoing effort to eventually transform the park into an active community space in the future.
Fauzia Khanani, founder of architecture firm Studio Fōr, feels that the park is a central location that can be utilized by the Richmond Hill community, “We think that the community could really benefit from an evolution of programming and what’s offered in the space” she said. “We’re spending a lot of time trying to build relationships in the neighborhood and really understand what people need,” she said.
The Winter Festival is one of many events that Chhaya CDC and their urban design partners plan to host at Lt. Frank McConnell Park in the future.