City polls Queensbridge residents for ideas on park

By Alex Ginsberg

Tennis courts? Maybe. Barbecue pits? Interesting. Skateboarding ramps? Definitely not.

Residents of the Queensbridge Houses told representatives of the Department of City Planning and private consultants last Thursday what they liked and what they hated during an hourlong discussion about how to redesign a strip of neglected city parkland under the Queensboro Bridge.

The park, known as Queensbridge Baby Park, is bounded by Vernon Boulevard, 21st Street, Queens Plaza South and a double line of trees separating it from the Queensbridge Houses. A quarter century ago, it was a lush patch of greenery that was a popular spot for young parents to take babies and small children. Although handball courts still exist on part of the strip, most of the park has been allowed to deteriorate. A portion was turned into a parking facility for residents of the Queensbridge Houses.

Now, thanks to a $2 million federal grant, the Department of City Planning has begun planning for a potential radical redesign of the entire Queens Plaza area, from Vernon Boulevard all the way to the Thomson Avenue/Van Dam Street intersection, said Penny Lee, the planner for Long Island City.

But the grant only covers the design phase. Once a plan is agreed upon, the department will ask city, state and federal elected officials for the money to undertake the agreed-upon redevelopment. So Lee and the consultants urged the 50 Queensbridge residents in attendance at the Jacob Riis Settlement House to make their opinions known.

“Since we don’t live here — we live far away — we don’t understand what you need for this place,” said Michael Sorkin, an urban designer and the director of CUNY’s urban design program.

Residents of the complex, the largest public housing development in the country, were not shy.

“What about putting a pool there for the kids?” one woman asked. “And some grills, so you don’t have to lug yours to the park?”

One man said it did not matter to him what was built as long as it could be flexible enough to serve multiple functions. For that reason, as well as safety considerations, residents quickly shot down the idea of a skateboarding facility.

“All I’m concerned with is having a space for little children so they don’t have to cross Vernon Boulevard,” said Elizabeth McQueen, a longtime Queensbridge resident.

That will be possible but tricky, Lee said, since crews will be scraping lead-coated paint from the Queensboro Bridge during a six-year project set to begin in the fall. The soil in some spots will also have to be cleaned of lead before a playground can be built.

The Queensbridge residents also heard ideas suggested by Lee, Sorkin and the consultants.

Margie Ruddick, one of the consultants, proposed community gardens, tennis courts and even a theater for dramatic and musical events. Gardens met a lukewarm response, but residents liked the idea of tennis and theater.

And there was total agreement that whatever ends up in Queensbridge Baby Park, be it see-saws or picnic tables, Queensbridge Houses could benefit most from development that would create jobs.

Lee said her team would continue to solicit opinions from the public and should have a rough design plan finished in several months.

Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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