When plans for the High Line were first revealed it made quite an impression on the design community. The converted elevated rail line, long abandoned by New York City, was threatened by demolition until a group of activists fought for its revival and helped transform it into one of the most renowned public spaces in Manhattan. Now Queens, a borough with its own abandoned infrastructure is on its way to redeveloping the land for its own version of the High Line, to be known as the Queensway Cultural Gateway.
In late December, the Trust for Public Land announced that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has awarded a $467,000 grant to the organization to begin a feasibility study on the 3.5 mile Long Island rail line. Early proposals reveal a new pedestrian and bike path, public green space and a cultural gateway that will celebrate Queens’ diversity in art, sculpture and food, serving the 250,000 residents that live in the neighborhoods along the route, which include Rego Park, Forest Hills, Richmond Hill, Ozone Park and Forest Park.
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Public space is vital for the health of urban communities. Queens, one of the most populous boroughs of New York City, has a substantial array of public parks and waterfront accessibility, as well as wildlife and nature preserves. The Rockaway Rail Line, the branch of the Long Island Rail Road that has been abandoned for over fifty years, provides the opportunity to continue this tradition and revitalize neighborhoods that are devoid of these kinds of spaces. The Queensway promises to bring an economic stimulus to the communities surrounding it. The draw of the original High Line proves just how powerful these kinds of projects can be.
Friends of the Queensway, an organization of citizens committed to transforming these 3.5 miles into a new park, believe that it will enhance the neighborhoods’ economic viability and help attract and retain business. The grant will provide the funding to conduct a yearlong study on the environmental, economic and engineering factors that will make the project possible.
Running alongside the Queensway project is a proposal via the Regional Rail Working Group to revitalize the line as part of the New York City subway system, providing a North-South connection between Rego Park and Ozone Park, and ultimately connecting Penn Station to Kennedy Airport through Queens. The proposal is costly but certainly has its advantages, particularly in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which wreaked havoc on the train lines in Far Rockaway, making the area virtually inaccessible on public transportation in the weeks that followed the devastation As community board leaders and the Trust for Public Land debate on the best solution for this abandoned line, citizens must weigh the advantages of either scenario.
The Queensway has both elevated and grade level tracks, providing unique opportunities of interaction between the natural landscape and the abandoned infrastructure. Anyone who has walked the Highline can vouch for its thoughtful design of landscape architecture blended with the old tracks that run in seams along the elevated path. Several speculative designs are posted on TheQueensway.org that ultimately call for community input to re-imagine a public space that can be used in a variety of ways.
The present Rockaway Rail Branch has a variety of natural and man-made features. Rails embedded in the ground, overrun by trees and vegetation, abandoned and cracking concrete platforms, and steel guard rails all of which inspire myriad translations into usable public space. Its features vary between secluded and forested areas to wide open and expansive swathes of land that over uninterrupted views of nearby neighborhoods. The possibilities are exciting. Stay tuned as the Trust for Public Land and Friends of the Queensway pushes this project forward.
For more related news, check out Journey to the Center of New York: Can Design “Cure” Our Cities? for a comprehensive overview on New York’s most ambitious urban renewal projects: The High Line and Delancey Underground.