Parks Commish Was ‘Impressed’ By 34th Avenue Open Street, But Will Defer to DOT

Parks Committee Chairman Shekar Krishnan showed off the 34th Avenue open street to Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue last week. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.
Parks Committee Chairman Shekar Krishnan showed off the 34th Avenue open street to Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue last week. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

The city’s new Parks Commissioner loves the 34th Avenue open street, but she said on Tuesday that she can’t singlehandedly add it to the so-called Emerald Empire as a linear park because interagency cooperation is “a hallmark” of the Adams administration.

Under questioning from Council Member Shekar Krishnan — who has advocated for turning the city’s “gold standard” open street into an innovative park between Junction Boulevard and 69th Street — Parks Commissioner Susan Donoghue said she had an amazing time visiting the recreation zone with Krishnan last week, but can’t do much more for a neighborhood that has among the city’s least park space per resident.

“It’s absolutely amazing that open street and a real testament to the volunteers you have there,” she said, referring to her visit on March 15, timed to when children were getting out of school and flocking to the open street. “It was just wonderful to see a dismissal time kids being able to be in the street and running safely. The Parks Department is absolutely focused on innovative uses of space [but] a hallmark of this administration is interagency collaboration. So we are really really interested and anxious to work with our sister agencies like DOT to think about how we can continue to expand access to open space in neighborhoods that absolutely need it.

“So my commitment is,” she added, making no real commitment, “I’m excited to work with my colleagues at our sister agencies and look at opportunities like this one to expand access to open space.”

It remains to be seen what type of opportunities might emerge from all this supposed interagency cooperation. As a candidate last year, then-Brooklyn Borough President Adams signed a petition calling for the open street to be converted into a “linear park.” But the Department of Transportation that he inherited from Mayor de Blasio is still pushing a watered-down permanent open street plan that is similar to the current arrangement, which requires scores of volunteers to set out barricades at 7 a.m. and remove them at 8 p.m. in order to create a safe space for residents to recreate.

In his one visit as mayor to the open street, Mayor Adams did not address the issue, but did see the open street’s importance to residents, Krishnan said at the time.

Before the hearing, local pols and advocates (including Adam Ganser of New Yorkers for Parks at the podium) rallied for more parks funding.
Before the hearing, local pols and advocates (including Adam Ganser of New Yorkers for Parks at the podium) rallied for more parks funding.

On Tuesday, Krishnan said he appreciated Donoghue’s answer, but reminded her (politely) that the open street is “a beloved space that was necessary during this pandemic.

“We are so excited to work on transforming it into a linear park for a community that needs it so badly,” he said.

The exchange was part of a longer hearing at which Krishnan, a freshman lawmaker from Jackson Heights, called on Donoghue to join him in fighting for the Parks budget to be raised to 1 percent of the city budget, or close to $1 billion. Currently, the Adams administration is proposing a $557-million operating budget for parks, which is $60 million less than last year. The proposed Parks Department’s construction budget is 30 percent lower than last year.

Donoghue played the very good soldier, saying that her “conversations” with the mayor over the budget are “ongoing.”

She was joined by a fairly sizable entourage of well-paid officials, including five deputy commissioners, one executive financial officer, two assistant commissioners and her director of government relations.

Those 10 staffers alone earn roughly $1.8 million total, city records show.

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