Jackson Heights is one of the most underserved neighborhoods in New York City in terms of parks and open space. According to NY4P’s 2009 City Council District Profiles, District 25, which encompasses most of the neighborhood, has one of the lowest rates of parkland per resident in the city, ranking 49th among the city’s 51 districts. Only two percent of the entire district is parkland, compared to the citywide average of 14 percent.
Armed with this data and the 2010 Jackson Heights Open Space Index – which New York City Council Member Julissa Ferreras commissioned NY4P to undertake – neighborhood community groups including the Jackson Heights Beautification Group and Green Agenda for Jackson Heights, and Council Members Ferreras and Daniel Dromm have successfully secured multiple open space improvements in a three-year effort marked by persistence and creative thinking.
Where, local advocates wondered after NY4P’s data confirmed their sense that their neighborhood is underserved, could we possibly find more public space? Three years later, the results are impressive: the community has a new pedestrian plaza on 37th Road, a dog run and brand new compost center under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway at 69th Street, plans for an improved Dunningham Triangle in adjoining District 21, and a Department of Transportation Play Street on 78th Street along the northern border of popular Travers Park. And to top off their list of accomplishments, local groups and Dromm helped convince the City to purchase a 25,000-square foot schoolyard from the Garden School, across the Play Street from Travers. The vision: two parks fluidly connected by a permanently-closed street, resulting in one expansive, integrated public space.
The purchase of the schoolyard is now undergoing land use review, and last week NY4P testified in support of the acquisition before the City Planning Commission. In our statement, we cited the aforementioned statistics, as well as more detailed data from our 2010 Open Space Index of Jackson Heights. The survey revealed a dearth of recreational opportunities, gardens, and green space: approximately 25,000 children live in the neighborhood, yet there are only 5 playgrounds and only three baseball fields, and there is no public recreation center providing indoor space for athletics. Only 36 percent of residents live within a five-minute walk of a neighborhood park, and none live within a 10-minute walk of a large park.
The schoolyard acquisition won’t solve all these issues, but when combined with the other successes of Jackson Heights advocates and public officials, it is a huge step in the right direction. It also validates the tireless efforts of these local groups and officials, which can serve as a blueprint for other open space-starved areas of the city. And for NY4P, it validates how powerful our research tools can be in the hands of local open space advocates determined to change their neighborhood for the better.
See all news