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Land grab in Queens park

Big-time sports and mall plan to carve up Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

By Len Maniace

Propose projects (Source: The Wall Street Journal)

Can you imagine Central Park or Prospect Park being carved up to build a 35,000-seat soccer stadium, the city’s biggest shopping mall, and an expanded tennis complex that includes two new stadiums and two  new parking garages? Neither can we.

But that’s exactly what’s been proposed for Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens’ largest park. All three of three projects – each huge in its own right – are now awaiting city approval. It’s a land grab so flagrant and so abusive to the people of Queens and New York City, it would make the robber barons of American history envious.

The Flushing Meadows land grab is wrong in so many ways. Here are a few:

Carving up Queens’ biggest park, but building the Highline

Parkland is in short supply throughout New York City and in Queens. In a blink of an eye, however, we stand to lose  400 trees and more than 50 acres of parkland that was once home to two historic World Fairs. And once parkland is gone, it’s gone forever.

We stand to lose this parkland at the same time New York City is adding and sprucing up parks in other parts of the city, such as the spectacular and spectacularly expensive Highline Park, the walkers’ paradise along the Hudson. Unfortunately, a different set of priorities applies to public space beyond New York’s wealthy districts.

Giving away parkland to corporations

The loss of parkland is bad, but what makes this particularly outrageous is the fact that the land is being given away to powerful private interests. Though parkland by law is supposed to be protected against being used for non-park purposes, the city seems willing to give it away for the gain of private corporations: Major League Soccer; the U.S. Tennis Association, and the New York Mets/Related Companies which would build the shopping mall in the Citifield Stadium parking lot. Both Citfield and the surrounding parking lot are on parkland.

Instead of protecting parkland, the city is willing to give these selected corporations massive subsidies that rob all New Yorkers, and Queens residents in particular.

Turning to cars and away from transit

The National Tennis Center expansion calls for two new tennis stadiums and two parking garages for 700 cars. While giving away any parkland is wrong, using it for garages is sacrilegious. To build a more environmentally sustainable New York, the city should encourage people to use mass transit, not entice them into cars. And it’s not necessary; the tennis center is well served by transit, with both the subway’s No. 7 Flushing line and the Long Island Railroad are at the center’s doorstep.

Now more than ever, we realize that an overdependence on cars is not only bad for cities, but also adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, worsening global warming and climate change. Instead of investing in more car infrastructure, New York should be investing in more transit for Queens, the city’s second most populous borough, which is grossly underserved by rapid transit.

Building upon natural flood protection

Flushing Meadows Corona Park was built upon low-lying salt marshes that during storms act as giant sponges absorbing flood waters. Though many of these marshes were filled in and land paved over, much of the park is low enough and open enough to act as a floodplain, storing water that otherwise would flood residential areas. More construction would reduce the park’s ability to absorb rainfall, making nearby flooding even worse.

As a result, this massive new construction in the park will make nearby sections of Queens more prone to flooding, a red flag after New York City’s experience with Hurricane Sandy.

A bad precedent

While the park in jeopardy today is in Queens, it’s important to remember that it’s not just land in Queens that’s in danger. Similar privatization efforts are under way in other parts of the city. And each one that succeeds makes it easier for a future developers  succeed in taking more of our precious park space

During his years in office Mayor Bloomberg has rightfully pointed to the need to make our city environmentally sustainable, especially when it comes to transportation and protecting the city from rising sea levels. Somehow that same concern is missing when it comes to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

It’s time to correct this colossal mistake and to save Flushing Meadows Corona Park – and to help protect every other city park in the future. WE NEED YOUR HELP!  Please join the campaign Add your name on the contact section and you will be kept informed about how you can help.

Future articles will explore the individual issues at stake in this landgrab.