Our Neighbors’ Thoughts on the Future of Astoria Heights Park

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It’s My Park Day Fall 2014, Group Shot

 

On “It’s My Park Day” (October 26th, 2014), I spoke with a handful of neighbors about their thoughts regarding Astoria Heights Park and its future. The following individuals and families were kind enough to take a moment from the various projects they were working on that day to answer some questions and all of this feedback helps keep Friends of Astoria Heights Park focused on advocating for our community accurately and passionately. Some of the questions I asked:

  • Please tell me about your personal connection to Astoria Heights Park?

  • What is your motivation for volunteering today?

  • What are your hopes for Astoria Heights Park?

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Chad and Amy

“This is the go-to place to get outside and run around. We live nearby and are raising 3 elementary school aged children. We often meet up with friends here and we have met new ones as well. Outside exercise is important.  As well, we have marked important milestones in this park: birthday parties, learning to ride bikes, playing soccer.  Volunteering helps make this a better place. Making suggestions and changes both in the interest of fun and safety is relevant to what our kids and really all kids need today. The pool currently blocks view of the full playspace. We want to help create and maintain an environment that is conducive to exploration and creative engagement.” —Chad and Amy

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Octavio with his son.

“I come here every day with my 6 year old son. We play on everything every day. I did not know about Friends of Astoria Heights Park until today but am interested in learning more.  I would like to see the park become cleaner. More plants would make it look nicer, too.” —Octavio

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Darron

“I am here today as a High School volunteer. One of our program coordinators lives in this area and mentioned this as an opportunity for community service. However, I do not have a requirement to fulfill, I choose to participate in these types of projects with my friends.  My playgrounds always had jungle gyms and slides. I loved to play tag. Now that I am older it would be great to have something like a climbing wall or an area designed for teens. My friends and I would probably be interested in events geared to us, like a science project, a sporting event, even yoga. Sometimes we need a reason to go to a playground or park. Teens need a place to be in neighborhoods, too.” —Darron

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Goucen with one of her sons.

“We live closest to this playground.  My two boys, ages 2 and 5, need to be outside whenever possible to run and breathe fresh air. We do go to other local playgrounds but this is our primary one.  I am also alive, I also need to go outside. Here I feel part of a community. I moved here ten years ago from Algeria. This city embraced me, so I embrace it. I love people and have made new friends here just as my children have. I enjoy the events we attend in the park. The book swap, the bicycle lessons, the potluck meals. These intracultural exchanges push all of us to recognize tolerance and to celebrate our neighborhood families.  Making the park safer by adding gates at the entrances is important. Also, I would love to see a dance event here, perhaps with folk tales being told.” —Goucen

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Ashley

“I live on the other side of Astoria but found out about FAHP via Twitter. I wanted to come volunteer today. Even though I have no children, I think it is key for the whole neighborhood to support the mission of local parks and playgrounds. Making one part of the community better helps the rest of the areas too. It would be great to see more young people involved with the parks.  I know volunteering is one way I meet other Astorians and people who share my interests.” —Ashley
[Nota Bene: By law, only adults with children may be in playgrounds in NYC, AHP is mixed-use but something to be mindful of. —Jenny]

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Fabliha

“I’m in Key Club at my High School – it is a volunteer organization that provides community service to the 5 boros. I grew up in Woodside but this is my first time in this park.  Being outside is fun.  Parks are important they are a safe area to be with my friends. When I was younger I was always on the slide or hogging the swings. Now that I am older, even if I want to play on the structures I am worried about the littler kids. I would love a place to climb onto and sit with my friends. My volunteer work has taught me about stewardship. I feel I belong to the places I have helped. This park could use big kid swings and maybe a bigger slide.” —Fabliha

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Colette

“I basically came here every day when my son (now 6) was younger, now we use it a few times a week. Fresh air and exercise are critical to his development. Volunteering here is a great way to get our community together and it fills the gap between what the park needs and the resources available. My mom did things like this when I was a baby and it helps develop ownership of space and continuity of community. With some funding more staff, at different hours, would be ideal. We need better facilities or spaces for older kids.  The current equipment is not holding their interest. There are some logistics problems as well – too many exits – not enough gates. The pool gets in way of being able to have eyes on the children who run around it. We have enjoyed year-round use of the playground. More events like the ‘Winter Olympics’ and summer craft parties are needed.” —Colette

[Nota Bene: Gates have in fact been added to the Astoria Heights Park entrances; it is up to all of us to keep them closed. —Jenny]

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Mohamed and Ream

“We are here all the time. We moved here from Egypt.  We came today to help clean the park. We have 2 brothers (4-year-old twins). This is the closest park to our home and we come to play and have fun with our friends and classmates.”

Ream: The park could be a better place and look more beautiful.
Mohamed: I do not want it to look all dirty with garbage.
Ream: I love the swings but am getting too big for the baby ones. I enjoy the pool and sprinklers in the summer.
Mohamed: The exercise equipment is fun. I enjoy climbing there. The bathrooms could be better but at least we have them. There is more graffiti in the park, how can we get rid of it?

What new things do we hope to see here?

Mohamed: Big kid swings. Climbing places.
Ream: A roller coaster.

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Tolu

“Whenever I have an opportunity I will bring my son here to commune with nature and to enjoy the season. Astoria Heights Park has been invaluable to me as a parent as I’ve been fortunate enough to meet with like-minded parents. This is a hub of the community. We come when we are happy and when we need support. I volunteer as part of the community to help maintain the space. I give back to this place. Action is critical as complaints only go so far. I hope AHP continues to grow as a place for us to come together. I hope the remodeling is sympathetic to the area and meets the needs of children and adults. This is OUR place. What we find in this playground is diversity. As an outsider, (moved here from the UK) Astoria is the one neighborhood where we all live side by side and in the playground we have everybody and everybody gets on. Just look at the group here today. Everybody’s got kids and we’re all in here.” —Tolu

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Interviews & Photography: Jenny Lando
Story Idea & Editor: Adam W. Cohen

Real Problems Affecting Real People at Astoria Heights Park

The recent Daffodil Spring Fling event presented Friends of Astoria Heights Park an opportunity to listen to the concerns of neighborhood parents whose active support will be so important to our group’s vitality and success.

Like us, our neighbors love the park. They love that it’s a conveniently accessible, fairly open space with amenities like bathrooms and a pool. They love the spirit of generosity that characterizes their experience of other parents here. They appreciate the wide age range and ethnic diversity of people who use the park. Like us, everyone we spoke with feels strongly that the playground can and should and must be better than it is. They envision new gym equipment and innovative installations, like climbing walls. They dream of a re-imagining of the space that makes it greener, more interactive, more beautiful. And some of them are starting to think about the whole park, the possibilities of a multi-lane running track around the Big Square and perhaps a soccer field up there. Astoria Heights Park is a large space rich with potential that really could be one of the most beautiful and inspiring public spaces in New York City.

Parents I spoke with also commented on how unnerving it is that the place becomes so filthy over the course of the day, expressed their frustration that bathrooms are locked and/or undersupplied during busy times of the day, shared their concerns about the ways in which older children ride their bikes and even motorized scooters in the same places where young children are playing, and highlighted the scary absence of child-safe gates. Of course, they pointed out the now constant spillover of dirt from the West slope, and made repeated references to the tripping hazards throughout the park. Everyone is upset about their children being exposed to broken glass and cigarette butts in the playground. 

The reason that we repeatedly discuss these problems is that people who use the park on a regular basis confront them on an almost daily basis.

Case in point: When I visited Astoria Heights Park around 4pm on the same day as our Daffodil Spring Fling event (which was held between 11am and 1pm), the Park was only slightly less packed than it was during our event, but the bathroom doors were locked again. Friends of Astoria Heights had to place calls to the Parks Department to have the bathrooms unlocked during our event, and fortunately they were responsive. But why were the doors locked at 11am on a beautiful Spring Sunday?  They were locked again around 4pm, but of course most parents don’t have a phone number to call to have this addressed. And they shouldn’t have to call to address this. When I reluctantly took my three year old behind the bathroom building to pee, lo and behold another parent was at the other corner helping her toddler pee, too. This is absurd. 

Real people have real problems at Astoria Heights Park. And Friends of Astoria Heights Park won’t rest until all of these issues are addressed.

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We have no child-safe gates at our park entrances. Gantry Park’s playground has a child-safe gate at its entrance, even though the exit there doesn’t lead to a public street. The main entrance to Astoria Heights Playground at 45th Street and 30th Rd. (pictured above) has no stop sign for the traffic coming down 45th Street. There should be a speed bump on the approach to this intersection, too, given how recklessly fast people drive there. There is a speed bump closer to where the school is, but the problem is that once drivers get over the last speed bump, if they see a green light ahead of them at 30th Avenue, they typically accelerate to make it. That means that whenever this happens, cars are actually picking up speed as they whiz by the main entrance to the park. That’s the scary truth. By the way, if you visit 38th Street between Astoria Blvd. South and 28th Avenue, you’ll find that residential street with no schools and no playgrounds on it has three(!) speed bumps. We need some more speed bumps on 45th and 46th streets in the vicinity of the entrances to the playground off of 30th Road, and a stop sign and children crossing sign at least on 45th street where it intersects 30th Rd. Painted white stripes marking the crossing of 44th Street to the main entrance would be ideal.

 

Wholehearted thanks to all of the parents and children who participated so enthusiastically in these pictures. We’re just getting started with this idea.

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