Oculus - Spring 2016 Institutional Shifts - (Page 16)
one block over
A fresh swath of green brings a sense
of community to a Long Island City
transit hub; high-rise development
brings residents to use it
BY CLA IRE WILS O N
t's not quite a neighborhood - not yet, anyway - but Queens Plaza is certainly evolving into something other than the seedy backdrop for Law &
Order segments it once was. Luxury residential developments shoot skyward,
hotels thrive, and businesses like JetBlue and MetLife have moved in. It is also
only a scant 15-minute commute to Midtown Manhattan.
A rare patch of green stands out as the harbinger of neighborhoody things
to come: Dutch Kills Green, a 1.5-acre swath of plantings and bike paths that
now hosts butterflies, blueberry bushes, and baby strollers where parking
lots once dominated. The park was designed by landscape architect Margie
Ruddick, ASLA, of Margie Ruddick Landscape (who was with WRT/Wallace
Roberts & Todd when the project began in 2009), and Marpillero Pollak
Architects, with the New York City Economic Development Corporation as
the client. Completed in 2012, the park creates the only true outdoor gathering
space in this part of Long Island City, once defined only by strip clubs, donut
shops, elevated subway tracks, and the ramp to the Queensboro Bridge. "It was
just acres of asphalt with people getting hit as they ran across lines of traffic,"
says Ruddick. "It was confusing and dangerous, and we needed to make it into
a refuge - a green refuge."
Rezoning from commercial to mixed use in 2001 started the changes
around Queens Plaza, a locus of seven subway lines, 10 bus lines, and 16 lanes
of traffic - "not decommissioned like the High Line," according to Linda Pollak, AIA, Affil. ASLA, principal of Marpillero Pollak Architects.
The NYC Department of City Planning (DCP) and the Department of
Transportation had already begun reconfiguring the streets and adding medians, leaving the design team a parcel that began with a long, narrow strip near
the bridge and swelled into a wide triangle wrapped by an elevated line. The
designers raised the grade and constructed sunken wetlands to gather, clean,
and filter storm water. Using earth as a sound buffer, they lowered the decibel
level by 23%, making it more like a street in SoHo than Times Square, according to Ruddick. (Regrettably, trains still screech overhead.)
Artist Michael Singer designed textured pavers and low-slung wood and
concrete benches informed by both the Dutch granaries that once stood at the
site and the industrial character of the area, also home to many artists. The seating design enhances the effect of the different topographical levels that create
intimate places to sit and gather, according to Pollak. "People like to stand and
lie on the benches or climb around," she says. "The topography is very engaging."
Plantings are primarily native species. Three mature pin oaks found in the
former parking lot were preserved, to everyone's delight, along with some
historic millstones that were incorporated into the landscape. "The trees were
a treasure that provided shade immediately," Ruddick says.
Dutch Kills Green is phase one of a multiphase improvement plan that
stretches west from Dutch Kills to the Sunnyside Rail Yards and east to
Queensbridge Park and the East River. Storage space under the Queensboro
Bridge is being studied for reuse; an unused park known as "Baby Park" may
be refurbished, as may an attractive allée of mature London planetrees that
runs between the Queensboro Bridge and the Queensbridge Houses, the nation's largest public housing complex. Improved lighting for both the bridge
and elevated tracks that lead from it to Queens Plaza is also under consideration, according to Penny Lee, a DCP senior planner for Long Island City.
New bike lanes have been a resounding success, and the park's popularity
thrives with its plantings. "The slightest bit of sunshine peeks out, and people
are on those benches, having lunch," says Elizabeth Lusskin, president of the
Long Island City Partnership. In general, she says, "quality-of-life issues are
Claire Wilson is a New York-based freelance writer.
Oculus Spring 2016
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Spring 2016 Institutional Shifts
Letter from the President
Letter from the Editor
Center for Architecture
One Block Over
Opener: The Intersection of Technology and Walkability
The Challenges of Expansion
A Win-Win at Rockefeller University
1,087 Windows (and a Unique Focus) on the City
Playing a New Tune
A More Perfect Union
Social Innovation by Design
Index to Advertisers
Oculus - Spring 2016 Institutional Shifts
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