The Immigrant-Powered Battle For Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

In All by Tola Brennan

In response to development plans which bypassed the wishes of the many neighborhoods surrounding Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the largest in Queens, locals organized and after three years have scored a major victory, perhaps.

Mayor De Blasio created Flushing Meadows-Corona Park (FMCP) Alliance on Nov. 14 with $20 million dollars towards park improvements over the next 20 years. Key in this development was a cross-neighborhood coalition of immigrant advocates, but some argue that the alliance has more to do with politics than anything else.

Corona Park hasn’t been maintained well by the city, and one of the complaints has been that the northern half of the park has received more attention while the southern half has suffered from greater neglect.

Part of this stems from institutions like New York Hall of Science, the Queens Museum, the Queens Zoo, the National Tennis Center, the Arthur Ashe Stadium and the famous Unisphere (an enormous globe monument from the 1964 World’s Fair) all sitting in the northern half.

The southern half is little more than a huge pond surrounded on all sides by highways.

But whatever the condition, it’s a vital piece of green space for the mostly immigrants communities who live around the park said Anna Dioguardi Moyano, a director at the Queens Community House.

And the neglect might not be entirely accidental. “There’s been a lot of arguments over the issue that one of the reasons why the park has been so neglected is because of the makeup of the communities around the park,” said Moyano. “As opposed to the makeup of communities around Central Park or some other big park.”

Back in 2012, Corona Park made headlines when private groups proposed a 1.4 million square foot mall, two new stadiums and several parking garages inside the park which met fierce opposition. The plans were thwarted but the park was no better off.

“There was a huge community effort to make this and many other things happen and the community is an immigrant community,” said Moyano. “Students in our English programs signed petitions and made phone calls to 311 to protect the park.”

She said the organizing was done through community boards and local groups like Make The Road New York and the Jackson Heights Green Alliance. It ended up being a cross neighborhood effort.

“Without the participation of those different communities which are all very mixed, it wouldn’t have gotten the attention it has gotten,” Moyano said.

Daniel Altschuler at Make the Road New York reiterated their commitment to park issues.

“We’re a grassroots organization, primarily made up of Latino immigrants and folks that worked very hard on the issue of development in and around Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and the recent alliance announcement,” Altschuler said.

But maybe it’s too early to celebrate. On Nov. 25, Councilman Rory Lancman, who serves the communities on the southern half of the park, wrote an article in the Queens Tribune charging that this alliance isn’t really solving the issue.

“A board that leaves the interests of the hundreds of thousands of people who use the southern half of the park unrepresented is an unrepresentative board,” Lancman wrote. “Mayor de Blasio’s latest scheme further institutionalizes this inequity.”

Geoffrey Croft, president of the NYC Park Advocates, sees even deeper issues. “This is a very different deal than all these other conservancies and friends of groups,” he said. “The fact is that this conservancy was created on the business model of using funds from businesses that are exploiting the parkland.”3

Croft also doubts the grassroots organizing. “It’s almost like the opposite of that,” he said. “What’s happened is a group very closely aligned and sponsored by Jalissa has done the organizing, the only group that I know of is Make the Road,” He said, referring to Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, who serves the neighborhoods around the northern half of the park.

But alleged self-interested politics aside, perhaps it distracts from the larger point.

In the end, Croft blames the city for under-funding parks and creating the need for conservancies in the first place. “The culprit here is the city. It’s their job to maintain parks, not private businesses,” he said. “It’s laughable. It’s like the fox guarding the hen house.”