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Concrete-less Jungle: medians to get green makeover

The concrete slabs that divide Hillside Avenue in Queens Village will soon be replaced with several new green drainage spaces, better protecting the eastern Queens neighborhood from flooding.
Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Vincent Sapienza says the seven new green spaces along Hillside Avenue will capture millions of gallons of stormwater, reducing local flooding and overflows of the sewer system.
In September, an overflowed sewer system was a main culprit behind the damage sustained during Hurricane Ida.
“Pavement is not our friend,” said Sapienza outside Martin Van Buren High School last week. “We want to try and get as many permeable surfaces in the city as we can and let the ground do its work and soak up stormwater rather than have it runoff and cause flooding.”
The project is anticipated to break ground in late 2022 and construction will continue for up to 12 months. The total cost of the project is approximately $2.5 million.
True to its name, the stretch of Hillside Avenue in the northern part of Queens Village is situated at the bottom of a hill, parallel to the Grand Central Parkway. DEP says a minimum of 5 million gallons will be captured in the new green spaces, which will also serve as habitat for pollinators and other threatened species in Jamaica Bay.
Councilman Barry Grodenchik described the current medians as “a sea of concrete.”
“The honey locust trees didn’t do well here” said Grodenchik. “This is going to change the environment here. It’s going to make the area literally cooler, because we won’t have the concrete soaking up all this heat.”
Incoming councilwoman Linda Lee vowed to see the project to its completion.
“Hopefully it can be a space the students and the community can utilize, because one thing that COVID has taught us is that outdoor spaces cannot be taken for granted,” said Lee. “I think this project will be a huge resource and benefit for the community.”
Kirby Lindell, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1958, is thrilled with the planned upgrades.
“I’ve been writing letters since before Barry was the councilman,” said Lindell. “In the summer, the only thing that survived was the weeds.”
Instead, Lindell and his neighbors will soon see the patches of concrete replaced with new trees and native plantings, with the addition of environmentally friendly green infrastructure
“I am so happy,” added Lindell. “I know how difficult it is even for the local council people to get projects like this done with all the bureaucratic stuff that goes with it. It’s going to be so important to people in our neighborhood.”

Forest Hills Green Team works for a more sustainable neighborhood

From August 21 to August 29, the Forest Hills Green Team (FHGT) hosted multiple free events to engage community members on environmental initiatives.
The events included How to Take Care of Neighborhood Trees, Progressive Potluck Picnic, Composting 101, Tree Care and Flower Planting, Urban Farmer Primer, and Voter Registration Climate Protection.
Formed in 2018, the FHGT is an organization of volunteers dedicated to the environmental health of Forest Hills and the surrounding areas. The FHGT worked with the Parks Department and Democracy NYC to host the events, which included voter registration drives.
“Our goal is to encourage grassroots support in mitigating the challenges we face in dealing with climate change,” said Mark Laster, co-chair of the FHGT.
Past FHGT projects have include partnering with MELS High School to develop a school garden, partnering with Forest Hills High School to create a community garden, creating a compost scrap drop-off site, and beautifying and maintaining Yellowstone Boulevard.
Former advocacy projects include testifying in support for safe NYC shoreline protection and hosting presentations and meetings with politicians about supporting the OFF Fossil Fuels Act.
Laster said that the advocacy projects really come into play more than the on-the-ground work when trying to make a difference in the fight against climate change.
“I think there is a growing awareness of these issues in our area, but there still needs to be a continued push,” said Laster, “There are plans afoot for groups like 350 NYC to work together to try to promote climate legislation and organize rallies, and I think that’s how we’re beginning to see how we can really have an impact.”
More recently, the FHGT beautified Yellowstone Boulevard with funding from a grant they received in 2019.
“We had a big project in 2019 where we got a grant and we brought basically 30 volunteers and cleaned up that whole area,” said Laster. “We planted some trees and flowers, and we’ve been going back on a regular basis to maintain it and plant more.”
The FHGT also recently introduced a food drop-off site in MacDonald Park. The farmers market in the park used to have a composting site before the pandemic.
Once things started to open up again, there wasn’t enough funding for composting, so the FHGT jumped in to fill the gap with help from the Queens Botanical Garden. They started with one bin and now regularly fill four.
The FHGT used to have monthly meetings in the library, but when COVID hit they stopped and switched to virtual meetings. This was just one of the many adjustments they’ve had to make during the pandemic.
“Most of our activities were outdoors so we couldn’t do anything, because at the height of the pandemi] nobody could be outdoors,” said Laster, “When things began to open up again we began to do more outdoor events.”
The FHGT’s weekend voter registration event took place during the drop-off site hours.
“We just want people to realize how important it is to vote,” said Anisia Ayon, a FHGT volunteer who was present at the event, “We make people more aware about climate change, which is very important because it’s affecting a lot of things in our life. Our goal is to educate our community.”
Surrounding the compost bins and voter registration table were other volunteers from Friends of MacDonald Park. They were picking up litter, sweeping, and weeding.
“I want more funding for this park,” said Stephen Melnik, volunteer organizer and nine-year veteran of FHGT. “We need a new watering system, better and more garbage receptacles, and trees to be maintained. We’re just trying to get the park in order.”

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