Officials and civic groups from Jackson Heights, a neighborhood parched for play space, have persuaded the city to purchase a school yard and turn it into a park.
The Jackson Heights Green Alliance, along with the help of Councilmember Daniel Dromm and the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, acquired a 2,600-square-foot patch of asphalt from the Garden School, nearly doubling the area’s amount of park space.
“Jackson Heights has a critical shortage of park space,” said Dudley Stewart, president of the Jackson Heights Green Alliance. “It is dramatically underserved.”
When the Jackson Heights Green Alliance discovered the Garden School was looking to sell its lot to a private developer in February 2011, it stepped up and threw in a bid. Shortly after, the Grow a Park Campaign formed, fighting for open space in the neighborhood. With monetary assistance from private foundations and nearly half a million dollars in pledges, the group purchased the Garden School’s lot.
Councilmember Daniel Dromm has eyed the spot for a possible park ever since Jackson Heights was ranked second to last in park space out of the 51 council districts citywide in a New Yorkers for Parks study published in 2009.
“I feel it’s a promise fulfilled,” said Dromm. “When I came into office I immediately began to think about how to create more green space. I promised the community we would have to think out of the box.”
This newly-bought space is adjacent to 78th Street Play Street – a car-free zone open for play during the summer months. For the fourth year in a row, 78th Street between 34th Avenue and Northern Boulevard will be transformed into an open area for kids and adults alike.
“It’s almost double the space between the lot and the play street,” said Stewart. “It’s a huge benefit. It’s not just for families with kids, it’s for the entire community.”
The Jackson Heights Green Alliance recently won the Department of Transportation’s public plaza program which designs and constructs permanent, year-round parks. According to Stewart, this marks the first time in the program’s history that the grant has been awarded to a civic group rather than a Business Improvement District.
Stewart says the next step is to install a fence around the space so the public can access it freely. During school hours, the Garden School will retain exclusive access. During the rest of the year, it will be open to the entire community.
“We hope it’s going to be great,” said Stewart. “We’ve got our fingers crossed.”