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Entries in Forest Hills (2)

Sunday
Jul092017

Creating Art from LIRR Ruins with Matt Jensen and The QueensWay

Saturday, April 29, was a lovely spring day in Queens, New York. The sun was shining and the air was warm as we took an artist-led walk with Matthew Jensen through a long-abandoned LIRR rail corridor.

Matt, previously an artist-in-residence at the Queens Museum/Artbuilt Studio in the Park (2015) describes the area we explored as the ‘end of many dead ends’ — where residential streets run up to the derelict LIRR rail tracks that slice through the neighborhoods of Rego Park, Forest Hills, Richmond Hill, Woodhaven, Ozone Park and South Ozone Park.

Matt’s intimate knowledge of all these neighborhoods and the proposed path of The QueensWay comes from his research for a photographic series which was commissioned by the Trust for Public Land, making him a knowledgeable and engaging guide.

As Matt took us along one of the many routes he has travelled for his book, we viewed the overgrown rail line (the proposed QueensWay corridor) through a different lens. Instead of envisioning the park in its former glory as a working railway, or in its proposed future as a community park, Matt encouraged us to look for the small details that can be overlooked in the hustle and bustle of everyday life — a rusted catenary tower, the white flowers of a dogwood tree floating in a sea of green, the complex topography surrounding the corridor. He tasked our group with absorbing and observing our surroundings, just as they were– to allow them to inspire us in creating a site-specific artwork.

The foundation for our artwork was a map of the decommissioned rail track and its surrounding ‘dead end’ streets. The stark white of the page was our museum space for the day, a physical form that represents the space of our mind that holds our memories. This canvas held the artifacts we found along our walk. See the items our group found and creatively composed in the photo gallery below.

Our group wandered from Richmond Hill into Forest Park, and then onto the publicly accessible section of the old LIRR tracks, all the while collecting and creating. Artifacts, garbage, greenery, colorful flakes of graffiti paint and other items helped tell the story of this place– a place whose story evokes ruin and disrepair, but one day could tell a very different story.

Along the way we saw graffiti murals, decaying wooden railway ties, and evidence of stray cats and wild birds fed by humans. We also encountered one family trying to explore the tracks as a Saturday afternoon adventure with stroller in tow, some fantastic migratory birds, and evidence of fire pits.

Meandering through a variety of landscapes offers scenery that is unlike other rails-to-trails projects in New York with which you might be familiar. The track has a variety of widths, elevations, and foundations from ravines and valleys, to a steeply elevated hillside and traditionally elevated structural rail track. We daydreamed about what this rugged place would look like transformed into a 3.5 mile linear park and off-street pedestrian walk and cycle trail that the community could benefit from.

Take a look at the artwork creations below. Matt’s photo studies of The QueensWay, A Place That Moves People, is available to purchase on Blurb.

 

This post was originally published at TheQueensway.org
Hero Image Credit: Michelle Cordray
Sunday
Aug282016

3 Things I Learned About Queens On The QueensWay Bike Tour

 

I’ve lived in Forest Hills in Queens for just over four years, and I first heard about this idea called The QueensWay when I was living close to Yellowstone Boulevard. Just blocks away from the abandoned LIRR Rockaway tracks – I had no idea there was a great possibility literally at my finger tips. The Friends of QueensWay are proposing to bring green, open space to hundreds of thousands of locals. When I saw that Friends of the QueensWay were planning to host a cycling tour of the areas surrounding the proposed QueensWay I just had to join in.

I pumped up my bike tires and strapped on my trusty helmet. It had been a while since I’d taken a long ride, so ten miles in one day was going to be a challenge. I convinced myself that if I got the chance to see my neighborhood in a new light, it was going to be worth it.

Honestly, it was the best day out I’ve had in my borough. The tour was led by affable visionary Peter Beadle (@pwbnyc), an incredibly knowledgeable local. He guided us through the streets of Queens in a way I had never experienced before.

I was introduced to new neighborhoods, and I saw areas I’d usually buzz past in a car or bus, up-close and in person in all of its magnificent detail. I met a host of friendly locals and, as an added benefit, did something active that got my body moving. The thing I loved the most though, was uncovering a hidden treasure of my borough. I’d like to share my thoughts on why a new park in Queens would be beneficial for all of us:

1. Secrets of Central Queens.

There are plenty of articles detailing the secrets of Manhattan – but did you know Queens has some of her own? For many (including myself) the LIRR Rockaway line tracks are a “hidden in plain sight” secret – it’s been abandoned for over 50 years! There’s even a secret underground station in Ozone Park and an ever-changing urban art gallery under the Jackie Robinson overpass. But the biggest thing I saw was potential. Currently the railway is overrun with plants, trees, various rubbish and even animal traps. The homeless hang out in camps there too – generally making the place a rather unsavory location to visit. But, with the proposed plan from Friends of the Queensway, I saw the beautiful green space it could be.

 

2. Access to Green Space is Rare – But it Doesn’t Have to Be. 

New York City’s optimal benchmark for park space per 1,000 people is 2.5 acres. This program is specifically designed to encourage access to public, green space for New Yorkers. Being able to stroll under trees, go for a quick bike ride, or have a leisurely picnic is especially important. In fact, people who live within a mile of a park have an average of 40% more exercise sessions per week, and are four times likely to use the park. Unfortunately in the Southern parts of Queens, residents have to walk further (over 1 mile) to get to a park. Families in this area have to slog through a longer commute to green space than anyone else in New York City. The QueensWay would be a convenient and happy alternative.

 

3. Cycling Around Queens is Tough

The weaving path we took along our QueensWay tour route wasn’t for sightseeing purposes, it was a necessity to follow road rules, avoid high traffic congestion and potentially dangerous roadways. In fact, some parts were pretty scary! Luckily we were travelling in a group, with safety in numbers and experienced ride leaders. But not everyone has that on their weekend leisure ride. It astounds me just how few on-street bike lanes, and even less dedicated bike paths, you see in Central Queens. It doesn’t have to be that way. With a neighborhood park/trail like QueensWay, cycling (and walking, jogging, skateboarding, rollerblading for that matter) between neighborhoods will be fun and most importantly safe. Only 3.5 miles to travel from Ozone Park to Rego Park, with on-street connections to Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and the many attractions within such as Queens Zoo, Queens Museum, CitiField, and the USTA. A dedicated bike path along the route of the QueensWay could even encourage bike share programs like CitiBike to expand here. There are a plethora of possibilities.

 

I love my neighborhood even more, thanks to the QueensWay bike tour. I’ve learned a lot, and am excited for the beautiful future of central Queens. I can’t wait for the next bike tour to pick up more secrets, tips, and tricks on how we can make the most of our wonderful borough.

 

Get involved with the next QueensWay event.

On Sunday September 4, 2016, there will be a walking tour guided by 'Wildman' Steve Brill who will lead you through wild, wooded trails and show you how to forage for end of summer nuts, herbs and wild seeds. FUN!

Don't forget to also sign up for the QueensWay newsletter for your invite to the next bike tour.

 

 

This post was originally published on TheQueensWay's blog.