2012-01-27 / Columnists

Commentary On Things Present

A Jamaica Bay Esplanade?
By Peter Stubben

This past summer local kids – organized by the Rockaway Civic Association and guided by former Rockaway Artists Alliance president Geoff Rawling – accomplished more at Rockaway’s seawall than the City of New York accomplished in over 50 years.

Queens is NY’s second most populous borough with 2.307 million people. Alone, Queens would be New York State’s second largest city ... and larger than the state’s next five cities combined! Alone, Queens would be America’s fourth largest city ... just behind Chicago and just ahead of Houston. Prioritized @ City Hall though, Queens – the bedroom borough – is an afterthought except when it snows! Among the city’s visionary planners and staffers, Queens ranks sixth behind the city’s four other boroughs and her waterfront.

Why do I make such an outlandish claim? Just ask Rockaway’s commuters along Beach Channel Drive who readily see, on a daily basis, what public v. private means. It’s abundantly obvious as they drive from Tribute Park to the Marine Park Bridge that on the left side of their vehicle how beautifully kept and maintained the private homes on private property are.

And, until this summer, it was abundantly obvious to them on the right side of their vehicle how dilapidated and deteriorated the bay’s public wall on public property was.

Would this wall – which overlooks the glorious estuary rich with game fish that we call Jamaica Bay and which also overlooks one of the world’s very few urban Wildlife Refuges - would this wall be so poorly maintained and left so deliberately dilapidated, ugly and useless if it were in Brooklyn or Manhattan. NOT A CHANCE.

Olmstead and Vaux thought it so important to incorporate greenways and walkways in the city – in addition to their Central Park and Prospect Park – that when they designed Eastern Parkway and Ocean Parkway they went out of their way to add walkways studded with high canopy trees.

Robert Moses was rarely defied and defeated, but when he proposed the BQE through Brooklyn Heights the local civic (The Brooklyn Heights Association – the BHA) fought and defied Moses until he relented and built a cantilevered walkway bordered by planted greenery for the residents of Brooklyn Heights that we now call The Brooklyn Promenade.

That rich tradition for walkers and green-gazers, however, never influenced the planners and builders of the Bauhaus Borough, Queens. Despite our size and girth, not one esplanade nor promenade exists here in Queens. Our Woodhaven and Queens Boulevards have been tagged ‘valleys of death.‘

Returning for a moment to my Rockaway commuters now on the Belt Parkway going through Brooklyn: after Bay Parkway how could they not help but notice the Narrows on their left, beautifully adorned with green walkways along the water; and, after passing under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, how could they not notice – again on their left – the small overlook park and then the running concourse constructed along the harbor’s edge all the way to 67th Street?

And, when our commuters arrive in Manhattan, will they not see the walkways, concourses, esplanades and all the parks that border the entire coastline of the island of Manhattan? Oh yes, at City Hall it is a priority that the entire island be bordered by waterfront rejuvenation.

Yet, today, in full view of all, Rockaway’s Bay Wall lies abandoned and ugly like some vacant used car lot on Brooklyn’s Coney Island Avenue. Except, of course, for the volunteer intervention by Rockaway’s teenagers!!!

Is there no reason, when the seawall is repaired by Sadik-Khan’s Department of Transportation and by Michael Bloomberg’s Economic Development Corporation, that it be re-developed as a waterfront rejuvenation – maybe as the “Jamaica Bay Esplanade” – just like all the other city’s waterfront rejuvenations in Booklyn and Manhattan?

I know ... I’m asking way too much here, an Esplanade in Queens!

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