Williamsburg is full of a lot of fabulous things like delicious food, beautiful art and exciting entertainment, but our neighborhood can’t boast a lot of park space. In fact, when it comes to parkland Williamsburg is ranked 46th out of 51 districts in New York City. And even within the neighborhood, the North Side has 15 times more park space per person than the South Side. The Friends of BQGreen hope to change that.
BQGreen will create a “park out of thin air” by extending a concrete platform over the BQE between South 3rd and South 5th Streets. The Green will incorporate Marcy Green and Rodney Park and include “3.5-acres of open space with a flower garden, a playground, a baseball diamond, barbecues, grassy and wooded areas, an indoor pool and a water play zone.”
Renderings of the proposed park are dynamic and inspiring, and Friends of BQGreen, including Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna, Los Sures, El Puente, and Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn, see their project as akin to the High Line in terms of innovation, but the initiative could have an even more profound affect on the neighborhood when it comes to fighting air pollution and delivering “environmental justice” to residents who live in the shadow of the BQE.
Robert Moses extended the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway through Williamsburg in the 1950s, and the high-volume industrial roadway has affected the quality of life and air in the neighborhood ever since. Today, South Williamsburg’s poor air quality constitutes a public health emergency.
According to a July 24th press release from Friends of the BQGreen, “asthma rates in South Williamsburg are double the citywide average. The neighborhood has the unwelcome distinction of having the 3rd highest number of asthma cases out of 59 districts in New York City. The air pollution from the BQE and the on / off ramp to the Williamsburg Bridge are particularly hazardous for the users of the 4 parks adjacent to these highways. An air quality study, co-sponsored by El Puente and the New School’s Tischman Environment and Design Center, conducted an analysis of La Guardia Playground, Jaime Campiz Playground, Rodney Park and Marcy Green. All four parks have elevated levels of PM2.5 levels that make them unsafe for park users and contribute to the health crisis in the neighborhood.”
To call attention to the issue, Friends of the BQGreen held a rally and press conference on July 26th where community members and local school children put crime scene tape around Rodney Park, and wore gas masks to symbolize the pollution emanating from the BQE. Residents also shared stories about why they thought the park was necessary, how they thought the green space would improve the quality of life and quality of air in the neighborhood.
Los Sures, one of the organizations spearheading the BQGreen initiative, points out that without sufficient green space, neighborhood kids must breathe in the pollution from the BQE, yet “they don’t have the opportunity to interact in everyday childhood activities safely.” But if BQGreen were to be realized, “it would create a safe space that is healthy and that improves the childhood experience.” Not only that, the study by El Puente finds BQGreen would increase park space in the neighborhood by 30%, tree coverage by nearly 15% while potentially capturing 100 million gallons of storm water annually and providing over 200 construction jobs.
Friends of the BQGreen are confident their project can be brought to fruition because similar parks have been built over highways in other cities. For example, Seattle completed a Freeway Park in 1976, Dallas completed one in 2012, and Toronto announced plans to begin construction on a comparable project in 2016.
Friends of the BQGreen has appealed to the Mayor and the Governor for funds to create the park, and if you’d like to help make BQGreen a reality, you can donate here!