“That’s a park?!” Sparking dialogue through urban interventions

A couple of months ago, NYCGo launched the See Your City campaign aimed at getting New Yorkers to check out local places they might not otherwise travel to — Van Cortlandt Park and Arthur Ave. in the Bronx, St. George in the forgotten borough of Staten Island, Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn, and others. Naturally I was excited to see my very own neighborhood listed as one of two spots in Queens, alongside much-trendier Long Island City. JH

They’ve marketed Jackson Heights as a “foodie’s paradise,” and rightly so — that’s pretty much why we moved here. The neighborhood’s vibrant Latin/South Asian/Himalayan communities (where else in the world will you find THAT combination?) keep us happily in medialunas for breakfast, lamb vindaloo for lunch, momos (dumplings) for dinner, and sweet, cheesy corn arepas for a midnight snack. 

Okay, so Jackson Heights has great food; so far, so good. NYCGo could’ve stopped there. But for whatever reason, they decided to list the neighborhood’s “green spaces” as another reason to visit, which is kind of laughable — most green space in JH is private and inaccessible. What’s especially laughable is that one of the three green spaces listed is the Manuel de Dios Unanue Triangle, just one block away from my apartment. Walking past the “park” one night — essentially a large planter filled with a few trees and shrubs, sandwiched unceremoniously between a laundromat and a Chinese fishmonger — I thought to myself, this would be pretty anti-climactic if I’d come all the way from another neighborhood to see it.

Well, apparently someone else felt the same way.

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Just a couple of days later I noticed this awesome little urban intervention — very utilitarian and to-the-point. It critiques the “park” while at the same time improving it. In bright blue script the artist expresses their disbelief (“really, Parks Department?”), while the plywood it’s painted on forms a makeshift bench, covering up the metal spikes meant to prevent loitering (otherwise known as “sitting,” “socializing,” you know, the things you do in “parks”).

Former Mayor Bloomberg’s vision that every New Yorker live within a ten-minute walk of a park is an honorable one — but if spaces like this are what pass for parks in our city, it’s a hollow promise.  New York already has less public space per person than most major American cities, and as real estate development continues we stand to lose even more. If we don’t want to be left with token “parks” like the Manuel de Dios Triangle as our only green spaces (filling the city’s parks quota but providing zero actual benefits), we need to speak up. Creative interventions like this one don’t hurt, either, especially if they get people thinking. Bravo to the artist for calling it like they saw it!

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