JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: Why I Support a Linear Park in Jackson Heights
The local Assembly member weighs in on the importance of open space for environmental justice.
A debate is raging over the 34th Avenue open street in Jackson Heights and Corona, with one group of open space and quality of life opponents hoping to reduce the hours of the open street or relocate it entirely, while another has called for the roadway to be converted into a linear park for a neighborhood that has among the lowest amount of green space per capita in the city. The debate has touched raw nerves among car drivers, but also among some who believe that improving the quality of life in such a diverse community could lead to gentrification. At Streetsblog, we fight against displacement, but we also believe that less-fortunate New Yorkers should not be consigned to car-choked neighborhoods with virtually no open space — stuck, if you will, in the environmentally unjust planning decisions of the past. As such, we invited elected officials and experts to offer their support for improving this diverse community. Today, we hear from Assembly Member Jessica González Rojas:
Advocates and residents of Jackson Heights and Corona who benefit from the 34th Avenue open street have a petition calling for converting 34th Avenue from 69th Street to Junction Boulevard into a linear park rooted in a vision of equity for our communities. And I endorse that vision.
Access to parkland in a diverse community starved for open and green space is a matter of both racial and environmental justice, but we can remedy this. Some buildings have their own private green space, but they are often found in the wealthier parts of our communities. To be clear: all of us — not just a few of us — deserve access to the benefits of green space.
We have endured, and are still battling, a global health pandemic — and few other communities worldwide have suffered the burden as my district did. The experience of the last year reminds us that we need to implement permanent public health strategies to provide cleaner air, safer streets, and equitable access to open space for healthy activities.
A linear park will do that by providing space for recreation, exercise, and socialization after the isolating impact of the coronavirus, but also beyond. During the pandemic, many New Yorkers of sufficient means left their communities to for greener areas outside the city, where they could sustain their physical and mental health.
But not everyone could “get away,” which is why we must provide such access within our community — and do so in a way that supports larger climate justice goals.
For starters, green spaces lower the temperatures from concrete, which reflects heat and drives up temperatures in the environment, and provides healthier air for our children to breathe.
Additionally, public safety is public health. We can and must provide safe bike routes for our neighbors, including immigrant delivery workers. The death of Xing Long Lin, a 37-year-old father of two and delivery worker from Elmhurst who was tragically killed by a motorist last month in Astoria, highlights this need.
That’s my favorite thing about 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights- it’s commercial free – retail free. It’s a linear park where people can enjoy themselves without spending a cent. #OpenStreets #34AveOpenStreets pic.twitter.com/VdUIbieubK
— JimRockaway (@JimRockaway) July 28, 2020
A linear park will also offer open space for children to ride bikes, reconnect and just be kids while also reducing the risk of more car crashes. More cars and carbon emissions have made public health and safety more difficult within our district and outside of it. The threat of climate change also continues to pose a threat each day for generations to come.
We can design a park that works for everyone, including people with disabilities. We can facilitate access for emergency vehicles, delivery, and school buses. We can build a new open space and promote safety at the same time. That is what the petition calls for.
From a democratic perspective, it is also important to note that the majority of public opinion is in support of open streets. A recent poll by Data for Progress showed that 67 percent of New Yorkers believe the city “was right to close its streets to cars and open them to pedestrians and restaurants.”
I look forward to listening to feedback from various stakeholders on the design of what this park could look like and will do my part to ensure it is a participatory process. I ran for office to give voice to those historically left out of decision-making. That is the lens that I bring to all of my work. We must do more to ensure that everyone feels heard.
But after a year of loss, we must bring new life to our neighborhoods. A linear park is one way to do that.
Jessica González-Rojas is the Assembly Member representing New York’s 34th District in Queens. On Twitter: @votejgr. To sign the petition to which she refers, click here.