Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Children Envision The QueensWay’s Future - Historic Route May Be Redefined

By Michael Perlman

Youthful visionaries at the QueensWay Mobile Workshop, Photo by Michael Perlman, Rego-Forest Preservation Council

Our children are our future. On March 29, Queens’ youth had a creative opportunity to shape our borough’s future by illustrating and presenting their visions for the QueensWay, which bears potential as a 3.5-mile linear elevated public park. The event was held at the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School, which uniquely sits in the foreground of a section of the abandoned LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch Line in Forest Hills. 

QueensWay conceptual rendering with children's play area, native trees, & wildflowers
Along with numerous Queens residents, the Trust For Public Land and Friends of The QueensWay envision converting an abandoned stretch of tracks, depleted with weeds and trash into a multi-faceted resource which Queens can pride as its symbolic representation of the 21st century. This was one event among a series of QueensWay workshops and mobile workshops, which the organizations hope will inspire Queens communities to contribute ideas, pose questions, and receive feedback. 

The Rockaway Beach Branch Line in Forest Hills as of 2011, Courtesy of Friends of The QueensWay
Woodhaven Junction Station in 1950, Courtesy of Friends of The QueensWay
In 1962, a small section of the line succumbed to a fire, and city officials responded by decommissioning the entire line. The conceived QueensWay would bridge central to southern Queens communities, as it intersects Rego Park, Forest Hills, Glendale, Woodhaven, Richmond Hill, and Ozone Park, and also provide direct access to Forest Park. According to the Trust, the QueensWay would serve 250,000 residents living within a mile, while fostering a major economic boost to Queens.  

Queens is a few steps closer to the QueensWay, as evident by a number of recent developments. After New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo awarded the Trust for Public Land a $467,000 to determine if the QueensWay is feasible, it led to the commissioning of two planning and design firms, WXY architecture + urban design and dlandstudio, which was recently joined by Hester Street Collaborative, a community engagement nonprofit. The organizations debuted preliminary design renderings at the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School on March 24, followed by their presentation at the High School For Construction Trades, Engineering and Architecture on March 26. To reach residents who are unable to attend major workshops, QueensWay mobile workshops will continue to be held.

The March 29th children’s mobile workshop was monitored by Shelma Jun of the Hester Street Collaborative and joined by Friends of The QueensWay volunteers Travis Terry of Forest Hills and Ruben Ramales of Woodhaven. Jun opened the QueensWay Mobile Workshop toolkit, and across a communal table, displayed a foldout aerial map bearing the neighborhoods that the QueensWay would intersect. She explained what led to the tracks’ abandonment and how it has creative reuse potential. The map was then reversed to reveal 10 photos which depict the area’s conditions and its embankments.

Ramales explained, “You'll find yourself on grade in the north. As it starts to work itself south, it’s pretty much earth embankments until it hits Forest Park, which then becomes more of a ravine. It changes back to earth embankments until it becomes an elevated viaduct.”

Jun explained how the areas vary in width, and drew comparisons to the width of two school buses, an airplane, or the Statue of Liberty. For example, the QueensWay is 72 feet wide near Jamaica Avenue, but 133 feet wide adjacent to the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School. “Where an area is really wide, we can introduce lots of activities,” she said. In response, the children were presented with a map with bold titled communities along the QueensWay, and were asked to place buttons pinpointing activities which they could enjoy along specific stretches. The buttons ranged from bird watching to garden spaces to food festivals. 

   The children were then handed a “QueensWay History Coloring Book.” It illustrated the line’s origins to its abandonment, and showed how some sections grew wild and others began housing businesses below. The last steps enabled them to imagine how an old railroad can be transformed into a park, and encouraged drawing what they would like to see in a circle. The children created a pond with frogs and fish, trees, flowers, bike paths, a zip line, and swings. Then they placed their 4 favorite program stickers, which included nature walks, ecology classes, and picnic areas. 

The event concluded with children presenting their work and exhibiting much respect for each other’s visions. This proved how community residents need to listen to each other’s views and work as team players, to achieve a win-win solution for Queens. 

“Through our QueensWay workshops, we are coordinating fun activities for students in kindergarten through grade 12. We want to get ideas from kids in schools or afterschool programs, since they can be very positive and creative,” said Ramales. 

Conceptual renderings of the QueensWay
Conceptual renderings of the QueensWay
Conceptual renderings of the QueensWay
There are nearly 2,500 QueensWay petition signers. Will you add your name & a comment?

A similar version of this feature appeared in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column:

You can advocate for a historical route and Queens' future by joining Friends of The QueensWay:


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