Long Island City and Dutch Kills 14th September

I meet Bibi Calderaro at Flux factory in Queens to go for a walk together. We are multi tasking – checking my route for the walk tomorrow, and also walking Chris Green’s ‘Radically Walking’ as part of Blake Morris’s ‘A Wander is not a Slog’ project. Chris’s score asks us to explore privately owned public space (POPS) so we head for Dutch Kills playground (which we have identified using the POPS tool here: https://capitalplanning.nyc.gov/map/facilities#10/40.7128/-74.0807)

The streets in Long Island City and Dutch Kills have good wide sidewalks, though like our morning walk in Manhattan there are cracks and holes for us to stick in. I’m getting better at manoeuvring around these, so our flow is uninterrupted. We can’t locate the playground at first, and then we realise our mistake. It appears on the map as a green space, but the reality is far from it. A huge expanse of concrete, surrounded by a wire fence, is the Dutch Kills playground.

We go inside and walk around it. It is a large expanse of open space, with a school building to either side of it. Whilst it does afford a place to play (soccer, or chase, or other running/ball games) it is not inviting and it certainly has no space for very small children or babies (I wouldn’t get Astrid our of the pram here). We walk the perimeter and find our way through to a hockey pitch, again surrounded by fencing. We can see through a gap to another space – what looks like a playground being built (one that meets our imagined image of a playground more accurately, with swings and slides and benches and grass). We have to go out and walk all the way around to reach it. It’s under construction – estimated completion date June 2018. There is a sign on the fence reporting that work on the site has been shutdown due to unauthorised concrete work. There is no sign of when this might be resolved and when work might resume.

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We loop back around towards the gallery, and, just opposite it on the other side of the road, encounter a space incredibly different from the Dutch Kills playground. The Windmill Community Garden is a vacant lot project, it’s tiny and green and full of flowers and vegetable plots – a rainwater harvesting system and a compost area at the back. We are struck by the difference in these spaces – one privately owned and publicly operated – and one community owned and run – how they feel and how they look. The care that has been given to them.

Leaving Long Island City we visit one more park – this one is not privately owned, but city owned and operated. It is a tiny space, cut up by roads and the tracks of the subway running above. However it is beautiful. It has been carefully planted and landscaped. Steps are matched with ramps so I can easily push the pram to every secret corner. Different levels enable us to find little hideaways even if the noise of the trains rumbling past and the traffic going through can’t be escaped.

We wonder about the difference between these spaces. The tiny green gem of a park at the end of our walk is right by the transport hub of Queen’s Plaza. New builds are going up all around – luxury apartments and hotels. Moma’s PS1 is just down the road, this is a fast moving regenerating neighbourhood. Dutch Kills is only a 15 minute walk away, but its playground felt like another world. I am sure that the guests at the Hilton Garden Inn (right on Queen’s Plaza) don’t ever walk in that direction.

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