Wednesday’s Headlines: Some Linear Parks Are Apparently Better than Others Edition

Park Avenue in the old days was a linear park.
Park Avenue in the old days was a linear park.

Are rich people the only ones who can have nice things in this city?

This thought came to mind after The Times did a lengthy story on Tuesday about efforts to make Park Avenue in Manhattan live up to its name and former grandeur. City officials (no doubt inspired by the image at the top of this post) are considering a plan to restore the roadway’s original wide pedestrian promenade and undo the damage caused when it was “shaved down by half in 1927 … to make room for another traffic lane in each direction and accommodate the city’s growing car culture.”

“Today,” John Surico’s article continued, “at a moment when the coronavirus pandemic has unleashed a huge demand for more open space, plans are in place that could transform Park Avenue’s malls and restore them to their original splendor.”

Original splendor. That sounds nice. And it would also sound nice on 34th Avenue, where car-owning elitists are hoping to block the city from giving Park Avenue-style improvements to the residents of Jackson Heights and Corona — two neighborhoods that have among the lowest percentage of park space, and were, in a related story, among the original COVID-19 epicenters.

Here is what 34th Avenue looked like in its “original splendor”:

This city used to be awesome.
This city used to be awesome.

That median you see above was also narrowed to accommodate car traffic and storage — the very things that cause congestion, pollution, global climate change, lack of open space and pandemics.

So will the city of New York end up giving the wealthy people and office workers of Park Avenue more green space and fresh air, yet deny the same thing to the diverse and decidedly less well-off residents of Queens? Must poorer New Yorkers be stuck with the decisions of the past — even the ones that were catastrophic for environmental justice — just so car owners can retain their hegemony over open space?

It’s a question that comes up a lot because improving the city — with nice parks, safe streets and less pollution — often leads to those neighborhoods being more desirable and then more expensive. The concern among at least one prominent official in Jackson Heights is that fighting for more green space for less-affluent communities will lead to those very residents someday being priced out.

But is that a legitimate argument? Last month, this outlet covered a rally held by Rep. Ritchie Torres of The Bronx — no gentrifier, he — where the congressman called for the Cross-Bronx Expressway to be capped so that Bronx residents (among the poorest in the city) could breathe cleaner air and not live in a Robert Moses car sewer.

Notice how Torres’s press release applauds the improvement in the name of racial and environmental justice. Notice how he doesn’t worry that cleaning the air for his constituents will somehow be a bad thing.

And please don’t trot out the tired argument that communities of color don’t support green space. When Open Plans, the parent company of Streetsblog, commissioned a poll from Data for Progress in March, the results were overwhelming: Latinx residents are strongly in support of reclaiming streets from car drivers. Check out two of the poll responses below:

question 24 w-box

A typical question in the Data for Progress poll. Check out the numbers from communities of color. Graphic: Data for Progress
Typical questions in the Data for Progress poll. Check out the numbers from communities of color. Graphic: Data for Progress

So keep all that in mind over the next few weeks as we hear from the DOT about its plans for its permanent open streets program (we reached out to the agency — which finally put a timetable on its presentation: June).

In other news from a pretty slow day:

  • Everyone covered the latest data that Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero has gone fuzzy (Gothamist, Streetsblog). Meanwhile, amNY broke the stories in two, first covering the Transportation Alternatives’ report, then focusing on the mayor’s completely underwhelming response: his call to Albany to bail him out.
  • Hey, Columbus, you had a good run, but it’s enough already. Kids need to learn history, not hagiography. (NY Post)
  • The city will spend another $358 million to renovate the structure that’s holding up Riverside Park. (amNY)
  • Why must the gods take from us the one pure good thing we have? (amNY)
  • Far from being a bipartisan issue, Republicans’ hostility toward cities could kill any hope of an infrastructure package. (Governing)
  • And, finally, here’s a little JarekFA action featuring a cop, an NYPD SUV, a bike lane, and (chef’s kiss) donuts! (We reached out to the NYPD with a myriad questions about this exchange, but only got back this terse response from Sgt. Edward Riley: “The officers responded to a 911 call for service at the location.”)