Hundreds of Queens residents marched through Flushing Meadows-Corona Park December 9 to express outrage about an unprecedented land grab of public parkland in Queens. Community members were joined at the march by local elected officials, including City Council member Julissa Ferreras and State Senator Tony Avella. At the conclusion of the day, residents took part in a park clean-up project to highlight the need for adequate funding to facilitate park maintenance and capital improvements.
Senator Avella said:
I am opposed to any private development on public parkland. Parks are sacred public spaces. I urge these developers to go back to the map and find private land to pursue their plans for private gain. We can’t afford to give tax breaks and other public subsidies to billionaires to take away our parkland. The communities of Queens need every inch of parkland they have and we need to invest in expanding parkland further.
Council member Ferraras added:
I am here today to stand in solidarity with my community. I will not support any proposal that does not include true community input, replacement parkland that is nearby and of equal value and utility, and a comprehensive plan to improve Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
Organizers are concerned that Flushing Meadows-Corona Park (FMCP) is being threatened by corporate interests who want this valuable public asset for their own private gain at the expense of the largely working class, immigrant population of Queens. Currently the US Tennis Association, the Wilpon Family (owners of the Mets) and the unnamed owners of a potential Major League Soccer franchise are lobbying city and state officials for rent-free public parkland. The proposed expansion includes a 1.4 million square foot mall, two new stadiums and several parking garages.
“I play soccer in the park,” said Luis Gonzalez, a long-time Queens resident and member of Make the Road New York. “Our community loves soccer. But that doesn’t mean we want a soccer stadium right in the middle of the park. The kids in our community desperately need open space to exercise. Childhood obesity is a major problem. Where are our kids supposed to play? ”
“Our park is a community asset. Not only does the park provide a free place for families to exercise and relax — it also helps absorb flooding,” said Donovan Finn, a professor of Environmental Planning at SUNY Stony Brook and a Queens resident. “Our park acts as a natural sponge during storms. If the Bloomberg Administration allows construction of a massive corporate stadium on wetlands there – what is to prevent storm surges from reaching surrounding communities of Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Corona and Flushing?”
“The very nature of the park will be altered by introducing additional stadiums and a mall nearby. The park is currently a heavily used greenspace for both active recreation and passive enjoyment of families,” said Anna Dioguardi of Queens Community House. “The prospect of introducing… even larger crowds is deeply disconcerting. How are local families expected to continue to enjoy their park when thousands of disruptive fans and increased garbage arrive in the park? How is this fair?”
“I can tell you that retail jobs at any new mall they build will be minimum-wage, part-time jobs with no benefits,” said Maria Alvarez, a long-time Queens resident and member of Make the Road New York. “I worked in the Queens Center Mall for 20 years. No one can support a family with those jobs. We do not need more of the same.”
“There is something wrong about taking public parkland from low income people and giving it away to billionaires. We are disturbed by published reports that the Bloomberg administration would enter into a deal with MLS for a $1-a-year lease, with no sales taxes, no property taxes and no revenue sharing with the city. If true, this is not a ”privately financed project” as MLS claims,” said Joseph McKellar of Queens Congregations United for Action. “Is this is best way to spend taxpayer money when we need funds to rebuild the parts of our city in the wake of Hurricane Sandy? Is it right to take from those who have so little and give to those who have more than enough? ”
Community activists say the area is already well-served by retail businesses, including a new, half-empty mall within eyesight of the park. The Fairness Coalition of Queens is calling for a new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and a new Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) application. The group cited several significant changes in the development plan since it was approved in 2008, including declining economic conditions, the completion of CitiField and the failure of the Sky View Mall to fully lease its retail spaces.
FMCP is the largest park in Queens. Its users are overwhelmingly working class, immigrants and people of color. The park has for many years been poorly funded — with budgets far below Central Park or Prospect Park. Neither the USTA nor the Mets pay any money for the specific upkeep or improvement of Flushing Meadows Corona Park–even though they both derive hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from public land.
Major concerns voiced at the march included the impact on small businesses, increased traffic and air pollution, the need for good quality jobs, loss of public space, broken promises on affordable housing and lack of community involvement. The Fairness Coalition of Queens was formed to ensure that the people who use Flushing Meadows Corona Park and the surrounding neighborhoods are protected and any redesign is coordinated in a responsible manner with community input.
The Fairness Coalition of Queens includes: ALIGN, Asian Americans For Equality, Jackson Heights Beautification Group, Jackson Heights Green Alliance, Make the Road New York, New Immigrant Community Empowerment, Queens Community House, Queens Congregations United for Action, and Queens Pride House.
For 72 years, Flushing Meadows Corona Park (FMCP) has been a place where thousands of families from across Queens come to learn, play, and build community. The neighborhoods surrounding the park depend on this public resource, which is one of the only open spaces in Queens. The area is one of the poorest in New York City; 75% of residents are people of color and 40% live in poverty. 20,000 youth and adult recreational soccer players use the park every week.