OPINION: Everyday Queens Residents Want a Linear Park on 34th Avenue, Too!

The 34th Avenue open street at sunset. This is what democracy looks like. File photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.
The 34th Avenue open street at sunset. This is what democracy looks like. File photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

This is the six installment in our ongoing “Park Week” series of stories showing support for 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, urban planner Donovan Finn and City Council candidate Shekar KrishnanCouncil Member Danny Dromm and a new video by Streetfilms. This story, from Jackson Heights resident Risa Procton, is adapted from testimony she recently gave to Community Board 3.

Risa Procton
Risa Procton

I am writing to express my love for the 34th Avenue open street, and to stress the necessity of carrying this wonderful asset forward by converting the avenue into a sustainable and permanent linear park. The open street has been an amazing resource to the majority of the local community.

We have lived in Jackson Heights for going on four years and we have loved living here from the get-go, as it is so vibrant and eclectic. That said, the opening of 34th Avenue has transformed our neighborhood into a real community. We all know the diversity of Jackson Heights. But we also know that diverse groups of people can remain separate entities and not intermingle much. The 34th Avenue open street has changed all that. Families living in the western end of our neighborhood starting at 69th Street are enjoying walking and jogging to Junction Boulevard and vice-versa for the neighbors on the eastern end. The 34th Avenue open street’s influence in creating a more cohesive neighborhood is reason enough for the city to nurture this treasure and convert it into a permanent linear park.

What’s more, the open street has been a blessing for the local kids. They pour out of the buildings lining the avenue to bike ride, play tag, use their scooters and skate boards, hopscotch, jump rope — you name it. That’s far better than playing video games inside.

Equally fantastic, we see that the teachers at the 34th Avenue schools are using the avenue as a safe and ample space to engage the students in fun and educational activities. Obviously, the schools needed more outdoor space that the openstreet is now providing.

Many seniors love the avenue as well, from the infamous senior Bingo game, to strolling octogenarians that take their nightly constitutional. One thing that has also struck me, is that our neighbors using canes and wheelchairs are often walking and riding the entire length of the avenue. Without the open street, it is much more difficult for the those with mobility issues to really enjoy a long stretch of relaxed excercise outside. Obviously, manuevering past other pedestrians and going up and down curbs for a couple of miles with a cane or a wheelchair is difficult on a sidewalk.

The opportunity for people of all abilities to get fresh air and exercise in the neighborhood is obviously invaluable and was sorely needed by young, old and everyone in between. Strengthening the 34th Avenue open street into a linear park would guarantee that Jackson Heights and Corona would finally have adequate space for neighbors to play, exercise and socialize outdoors.

The 34th Avenue open street has been a gift. Let’s hope we can to continue to treasure it and see it grow into a permanent green space for our community.

Risa Procton is a public interest attorney and member of the 34th Avenue Open Streets Coalition. She lives in Jackson Heights with her husband Alex and dog Yuki. She loves biking around the boroughs, and jogging with her dog on the open street.