By Madina Toure
Nonprofit Design Trust for Public Space, in conjunction with the Queens Museum and the city Department of Parks and Recreation, is working on a project that would engage local residents in the planning and design of Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
Last spring, Design Trust put out a call for projects for what they called “The Energetic City: Connectivity in the Public Realm.” The nonprofit initially had more than 90 project expressions of interest but they eventually narrowed it down to four projects for consideration.
The winning project ended up being a proposal from the Queens Museum and the city Department of Parks and Recreation titled “The World’s Park: Reconnecting a Regional Park with its Neighbors.”
The project involves community members coming up with new proposals for how to improve the access, circulation and connectivity of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. It seeks to better engage residents in the planning, design and management of the park.
The idea behind the project was to give residents and park users the chance to think about ways to improve parks, said Susan Chin, Design Trust’s executive director.
“When you’re renovating a park, it’s not necessarily voices from the community who are speaking but it’s really planners from the Parks Department or civic leaders,” Chin said.
Jose Serrano-McClain, a community organizer for the Queens Museum, said the proposal complemented the Queens Museum’s commitment to exploring the idea of shaping city spaces, as shown by its involvement in bringing site-specific art projects to Corona Plaza.
The celebration of the 50th and 75th anniversaries of the 1939/1940 and 1964/65 World’s Fairs sparked the need to launch a conversation about the park’s future. The proposal, he said, would give individuals living in the communities surrounding the park — Corona, Jackson Heights and Elmhurst on one side — the chance to have a voice in the park’s future.
“What ends up happening is that sometimes things that don’t seem like they make sense for a place like, say, Central Park, have a better chance at happening in a place like Flushing Meadows Park …. used by people who have just recently arrived and barely speak English using it alongside more old timers,” Serrano-McClain said.
Although the Queens Museum submitted the proposal, the Parks Department worked closely with the museum to craft the proposal, said Janice Melnick, the park’s administrator. Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver also wrote a letter of support for the proposal, Melnick said.
“It looked like a good opportunity for us to partner with two wonderful organizations and to work with the community,” Melnick said. “We’re always looking for ways to work with the community and draw them into what we’re doing in the Parks Department and this seemed like a unique opportunity to do that.”
In 2008, a multiyear study prepared the Parks Department by Queens Rothschild & Partners, LLP and Smith-Miller + Hawkinson Architects, was released. The study identified that the park has connectivity issues such as the park’s accessibility, given that it was built during the era of automobiles and highways and recommended that its design is favorable to connectivity.
A community design school, which is part of the proposal, has been in operation since December. The school helps the 23 community advisers become familiar with the history of Flushing Meadows Corona Park as well as understanding what design is and how the city process works. The school’s curriculum could be used in other regional parks.
The community advisers are everyday people who will eventually go out and spread the word to their own friends and neighbors in their communities.
At least half of the community advisers are connected to groups such as the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Conservancy, Make the Road New York, Evergreen Community Garden, Immigrants Movement International, Sustainable Queens and Asian Americans for Equality.
An exhibition will be held April 12, featuring solutions for new park entrances or better wayfinding as well as how to connect the community with the park.
There will be 10 workshops for the community advisers, four of which have already taken place. Chin, Melnick and David Strauss, director of external affairs and capital projects for the Queens Museum, will lead the community forums. The first is March 2.
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 260–4566.