EXCLUSIVE: DOT Hires Legendary Architect Maya Lin to Create Linear ‘Memorial Park’ on 34th Ave.

Rendering: Streetsblog
Rendering: Streetsblog

This story was published on April 1 and should be taken in that spirit.

The Department of Transportation will announce today — April 1 — that it has hired world-class architect and artist Maya Lin to redesign 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights and Corona from a 1.5-mile car-choked roadway into a linear park that includes the city’s COVID-19 memorial, Streetsblog has learned.

In a move championed by Streetsblog only last month, city officials said the decision to turn the 34th Avenue open street into a permanent park and a monument to the global coronavirus pandemic was a master stroke that would create more green space while also honoring the 50,000 New Yorkers who died of the virus.

And hiring Lin was a “no brainer,” said Deputy Commissioner Margaret Forgione (Commissioner Hank Gutman was unavailable for comment).

“Maya is just the best at creating safe, respectful, car-free spaces for people to thrive, gather and connect,” said Forgione, “which is something that DOT is frankly not very good at.”

Maya Lin
Maya Lin

Lin, best known for the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., is known for incorporating environmental themes in her landscape design and memorials.Lin’s best work, such as her recent renovation of a library on the campus of Smith College, creates daring, yet accessible, spaces. Her environmental installation, “Ghost Forests,” will open this spring in Madison Square Park.

One critic said her work unearths “hidden histories” of sites that link viewers to nature and the built world around them.

But there’s nothing hidden about what occurred in Jackson Heights and Corona during the pandemic: The neighborhoods were both extremely hard hit by the virus, but then were revived after Mayor de Blasio created the open streets program and reclaimed 34th Avenue between Junction Boulevard and 69th Street from cars. From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, thanks to the efforts of a legion of volunteers, the roadway becomes off limits to cars drivers and fills with people recreating and gathering in a socially responsible manner.

The DOT has repeatedly called 34th Avenue “the gold standard” of open streets. Lin said she will incorporate many of the agency’s public comments into her design.

“They have called it ‘the gold standard’ and a ‘sterling example’ of what great public space can be,” Lin told Streetsblog just after midnight on April 1. “So I’m picturing lots of vermeil finials.”

A preliminary design, made available to Streetsblog and posted at the top of this story, shows Lin’s signature style — a granite, name-covered monument — at the center of the green strip of remade 34th Avenue.