OPINION: Council Member Dromm Clearly Supports Linear Park for 34th Avenue
This is the fourth installment in our ongoing series of opinion pieces in favor of converting 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights and Corona into a linear park, which is the subject of a new petition drive that seeks a logical final conclusion to what the Department of Transportation calls “the gold standard” of open streets. Earlier this week, we published support from Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas, Borough President Donovan Richards, and urban planner Donovan Finn and City Council candidate Shekar Krishnan. This piece is from Council Member Danny Dromm.
The issue of community greenspace is personal to me. That’s why 34th Avenue should become a linear park.
My district in Queens ranks near the bottom as one of the worst in the city when it comes to many health and environmental indicators. This is largely because of the lack of green space. The inequities of New York City green space and parks are a result of overtly racist urban planning that happened decades ago. It is hard to believe, but hyper-diverse Jackson Heights was once a neighborhood rife with restrictive covenants meant to keep out non-White residents and immigrants. Early apartment blocks were designed with private gardens, and public greenspace seemed not to be a priority.
Green space construction has historically catered to high-income communities and new developments. Neighborhoods with a high volume of immigrants like ours — which has a Latino population that is double the city average — always get left behind. While overt legal segregation is gone, urban planning choices, especially around parks and open space, still largely neglect communities such as mine.
Our neighborhoods are in desperate need of projects that expand parks and plant street trees because of air pollution and the need for exercise. In communities struggling with environmental justice concerns, the impact of such choices can be devastating. For example, children in my district suffer from a high rate of asthma, obesity, and are exposed to high levels of air pollution. A low percentage of these residents live within a five-minute walk of a park.
Additionally, our neighbors have suffered so much during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly due to overcrowding. Children in public schools have been in restricted environments for over a year. This effort would help all surrounding public schools with mental health initiatives and physical education. A linear green space would create a free open space for families to enjoy, bring our community back together, and finally let children enjoy summer again. For our mental and physical well-being, Jackson Heights residents deserve a place where they are able to find fresh air, leisure and entertainment regardless of their income threshold. They should not have to look for that outside of their district.
Through the work of my office and our community partners, we have fought for and won the expansion of Diversity Plaza, the renovation of Travers Park, and the permanent opening of 34th Avenue to pedestrians. These spaces serve as a safe space for members of our neighborhood to hold events, protest, and enjoy themselves. A linear park on 34th Avenue will continue this legacy.
In the Council, I have introduced legislation that aims to introduce accountability into the street tree planning process and to protect the urban tree canopy with its myriad environmental benefits. It is important to continue to produce creative uses of space, originating both from city agencies and directly from communities, that prioritize people and nature over asphalt and cars. It is important to know how the city is identifying opportunities to expand green space.
To help Jackson Heights become a greener and more equitable neighborhood, let’s make 34th Avenue a park.
Danny Dromm is the Council Member representing Jackson Heights. He is term-limited.