It’s My Park Day Imminent, Reflections on the Importance of This Event

It’s My Park Day, scheduled for this May 18 from 9am to noon is fast approaching. It’s My Park Day is a borough-wide event co-sponsored with Partnership for Parks that is a call to action for our communities to celebrate our public spaces by showing up to demonstrate that we cherish them.

Preparing for our event this coming Sunday brought me back to our “It’s My Park Day” event on October 19th, 2013. That was our first event after successfully petitioning the Community Board to reprioritize our need for erosion control and gates. Our requests were heard and Astoria Heights Park moved from thirty-fifth place on the list of public parks to be addressed nearly to the top of the list. The Queens Parks Department Commissioner, Dorothy Lewandowski, took notice of our strong contingency, as well. In March of this year, following a hearing with the Queens Borough President, Melinda Katz, we learned that we moved even higher up in the New York City Parks Department’s agenda for renovations.

In so many ways, It’s My Park Day in October 2013 has produced positive effects and generated incredible momentum for Friends of Astoria Heights Park. We had over 125 volunteers that lovely Fall day, including children, adults and students from five area schools.

Park Day October 2013

It’s My Park Day October 2013 Volunteers

Senator Gianaris, Assemblywoman Simotas, Council candidates Lynne Serpe and Costa Constantinides were present to help us with chores and support our efforts. Today, Councilman Costa Constantinides is one of our most consistent supporters, helping to advocate for a better park and a cleaner Astoria. We have had several events since our very first It’s My Park Day, all part of an effort to invite our neighbors to become stakeholders in our park and to help us continue building momentum towards the kinds of improvements we all want to see.

It’s My Park Day is a powerful way of showing up and of advocating for the park. Every time we show up, we are communicating to our parks department and local community leaders that we take our park and our neighborhood seriously. We have already made change happen and we can and should continue to do so.
There is a saying that raising a child takes a village. I believe that applies as well to building a better public space for our children to enjoy.

Please join us for It’s My Park Day on May 18th. Bring your kids. Volunteering is fun, character-building, and essential to the improvement of our community. Come meet your neighbors and celebrate each other and what we can accomplish together. And if you feel inclined to get more involved with Friends of Astoria Heights Park, we would wholeheartedly welcome you onto our team of volunteers.

See you on Sunday!

Not Fooling Around on April Fool’s Day, FAHP Visits with Council Member Costa Constantinides

Yesterday, Lynn and I met with our Council Member, Costa Constantinides, who you can get vital statistics about here. We hand-delivered our request for a Letter of Support regarding the Mural Project, which was well-received, and then we talked about the process of improving the playground area that lies before us in broad strokes.

The Parks Department has, in fact, already sized up the Astoria Heights Park Playground for a major renovation and has come up with a general idea of how much money it would spend to improve it. We have reason to hope that their plans are based not a little bit on the advocacy and input of the Chair of Friends of Astoria Heights Park, Lynn Kennedy.

We won’t really know the details of this plan anytime soon, but it should be reassuring to know that preliminary plans exist, budgets are being formulated based on them, and our park may receive allocations as soon as the upcoming fiscal year.

I asked if it would be possible to get a glimpse at those preliminary plans, which I imagine must be somewhat specific if they are the basis for a dollar figure. Alas, they are not available to the public.

At some point after July 1st, 2014, which is the beginning of New York City’s new fiscal year, we’ll learn about the budget that has been allocated for improvements to the playground area of our park. Based on how much money they actually have to work with, the Parks Department will create a plan along with a “scope of work” proposal, and if these pass muster internally, they will eventually be presented to Astoria residents at a public hearing.  Whenever that public hearing happens, that would be the first time that the general public hears about the exact nature of what the Parks Department has in mind for our playground.

I hope that the Parks Department is truly reimagining the space and budgeting for radical change instead of primarily upgrading equipment. Time will tell.

Members of our community will have an opportunity to provide feedback about the proposal to the Parks Department at the public hearing, and presumably that feedback is used to determine (to some extent) how the Parks Department will proceed. How are those determinations made? Good question! I would hope that Friends of Astoria Heights Park would have influence at this stage, especially if we reach a consensus about changes not included in the plan that we think should be part of the new playground. Although it’s possible that the plan will be brilliant, everything we wanted and more, I don’t think that’s probable, and it would behoove us to learn about how to persuade the Parks Department to incorporate as much of our feedback as possible.

Once the plans are approved, construction on our Park is planned and commences once its turn comes up. The time frames for all of this progress are not set, but this is clearly going to be a multi-stage project, almost certainly a multi-year undertaking.

Chair of Friends of Astoria Heights Park Lynn Kennedy and Council Member Costa Constantinides

Meanwhile, we’re thrilled to have the support of our local elected officials, who appear to be on the same page about prioritizing improvements to our neighborhoods public parks in general, and Astoria Heights Park in particular. Council Member Costa Constantinides appears to want to make his mark in our neighborhood with real progress on local park and playground improvements. He has consistently been receptive to our ideas and has participated in our volunteer initiatives.  Do we finally have an elected official who takes Astoria Heights seriously and sees in it the potential that we do?

On our way to our meeting with Council Member Costantinides, I shared with Lynn a couple of brainstorms I’ve had recently— possibly teaming up with Brooklyn Grange to set up a plants and vegetables stand in our park one weekend morning, and contacting the Frank Sinatra School for the Performing Arts about staging concerts and plays and dance recitals in our Big Square throughout the Summer. Lynn shared that she had reached out to GrowNYC last year about setting up a green market in our park. So imagine our delight when Council Member Costantinides brought up that he had given some thought to hosting a green market in Astoria Heights Park before we had a chance to mention that we had been thinking the same thing.

I am as skeptical of politicians as skeptics get, so I’ll count my chickens after they hatch. That said, I’m hopeful.

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All of us got involved in Friends of Astoria Heights Park because we want to make it clean, safe, and generally awesome for our children. That is our priority. However, we need to keep in mind that our Park is more than its playground. It includes the Big Square and the basketball and handball courts, too. We should be advocating boldly for changes that make Astoria Heights Park as a whole a fantastic destination, one residents of all ages can truly enjoy.