Folks outside of New York – hell, folks outside of Queens – are probably not aware of the Flushing Meadow Park, except in snippets they’ve seen on the TeeVee during the US Open or perhaps NY Mets baseball games. It is the largest park in Queens, spanning nearly 1,300 acres, and is bordered by three highways. It was the site of the 1939 and 1964-65 World’s Fairs, and is most famous for the Unisphere (featured in more movies located in New York City than you can shake a stick at), a Cold War relic that celebrated the first Mercury flight to circle the globe.
It’s also flat. And open. This is one big reason it was used for the World’s Fairs: walking (as well as running and bike riding) is really easy. Now that most of the structures have been demolished, the park serves as one gigantic playground for the working and middle classes. On a weekend in good weather, you can find marathoners and cricketers, soccer games and football games, pitch and putt golfers and cyclists. There are a few trees, many bushes, and precious little landscaping because there’s no Flushing Meadow Park Conservancy the way Central Park has. This is a park built on what F. Scott Fitzgerald called a “valley of ashes,” so its enjoyment by hoi polloi is a perfect complement to that legacy.
There’s a public aquatic and skating center, a museum, a small zoo featuring North American animals, a small farm – seriously! -- a boat rental at Meadow Lake, as well as a theatre that hosts many local and ethnic theatre organizations. In short, it’s pretty much a people’s park, right smack in the center of a working class neighborhood in a working class borough.
From the end of Meadow Lake are clear sight lines all the way to the other end of the park, including Citifeld and the Arthur Ashe Stadium in the Billie Jean Tennis Complex.
You know, rich people territory. And it’s those rich people who want to ruin the park:
It was two years ago that a match at the United States Open was interrupted because an 18-inch hairline crack developed along the service line in the middle of a game. “Of course, it was all captured on TV,” recalled Daniel Zausner, the chief operating officer of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens. “It was an embarrassment.”
The crack was indicative of the condition of two of the center’s three stadiums, which date to the 1964 World’s Fair. The United States Tennis Association, which runs the Open, has a solution: a $500 million plan to replace the two stadiums, while adding 7,000 seats, new retail space, parking and expanded walkways. But to achieve that, the Tennis Center, which occupies 42 acres inside Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, needs a .68-acre strip of parkland from New York City.
[…]The request for less than an acre of land in the borough’s largest park would seem simple enough. After all, the United States Open generates more than $750 million a year in economic activity for New York City, employs 6,000 seasonal workers and operates tennis programs for children and adults 11 months of the year. The land in question is now a paved pathway outside the center’s fence, used by pedestrians and emergency vehicles, and the association has promised the city that it will pay for capital improvements in the park.
But opposition to the association’s plan has been heightened by two other proposals for Flushing Meadows-Corona. Major League Soccer wants to build a 25,000-seat stadium in the center of the park, and the Related Companies has proposed a shopping mall on a parking lot at Citi Field, also in the park. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has expressed support for all three projects.
You can see the problem. For one thing, the park is limited on the slip of land that the stadium wants by it abutting a Long Island Railroad station, and a NYC subway yard. To expand in that direction leaves little to no room for an already barely-adequate access road (so slender that it’s nearly impossible to fix the potholes that crop up without closing off the road entirely, something the Tennis Center does annually to accommodate the media center, which is situated on that strip of land.)
More, to open the park to development by one wealthy organization leaves the door open for all manner of developers to come knocking. As noted by The Times, Major League Soccer is interested in a stadium smack dab in the middle of the park to house what would probably end up being the renaissance of the New York Cosmos, a legendary professional soccer team of the 1970s (Pele played for them, and brought soccer in America for a while.)
I have less of a problem with that than with expansion of the Tennis Center, to be frank. A soccer stadium would be more in keeping with the tenor of the park’s usual visitors. But I digress…
In short, there are plenty of better and more neighborhood friendly uses for the park than to give rich people easier access to a three-week event that in the grand scheme of things causes more headaches for the local residents than it benefits them, what with the traffic and the entitled assholes who think they own wherever they deign to place their feet. After all, three weeks of minimum wage work just ahead of the start of the school year is peanuts compared to what could be done with the site that enhances the neighborhood as a whole.
Flushing Meadow Park demands planning with foresight and an eye towards the shifting demographics of the area, and not catering to an elite that would give the surrounding bodegas and delis about as much thought as they give the shoeshine guy.