What's a Park in Queens Worth?

TMP Note: Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez, first year International Security Policy and International Conflict Resolution student, is blending art and policy by taking to the streets and filming what is happening in Queens...

In recent years, as land available to purchase in NYC decreases, public, city-owned land across the boroughs is at risk of privatization as it becomes more attractive to private developers. In 2013, attention shifted to Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the largest green space in Queens. City officials were in firm opposition to any proposals that would compromise access to public land, until the US Tennis Association negotiated a deal that would meet both their own and community interests, and essentially bought unanimous support from city council. They offered a $10 million ‘donation’ towards park upkeep and programming, and in exchange, expanded their facilities in the park.

However, though the money was promised in 2013, by this past summer it had yet to be distributed. Even more troubling is that people who live in the neighborhoods surrounding the park have no representatives in the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Alliance, the board that decides on the distribution of funds. The community ultimately has very little say in how the money that is supposed to be for their benefit will be spent.

“Flushing Meadows Corona Park: What It’s Worth” is a short film that coalesces and amplifies voices that have been excluded from the conversation. It highlights the extremely diverse voices and experiences of park-goers, and represents a snapshot of how free and equal access to city parks impacts hundreds of lives every day. The film is strictly composed of only the voices of park goers, and their thoughts on the actual harm that privatization of the park would cause the community. For over 70 years, the park has been used by millions of families across the borough. Every week, 20,000 people play soccer in the organized soccer leagues alone, not to mention all the other users. The extremely diverse, primarily immigrant community depends on the park as some of the only open space in Queens.

As previously mentioned, the community had not actually been asked to give input on the proposed privatization projects. In fact, proposals had largely been kept under wraps, and many people found out about them during the process of our interviews. The messed up common denominator in so many community development projects is that the people who are affected by developments are excluded from the process, and are not actually asked what would be beneficial to the community. People should have a say in how their lives and immediate surroundings will be affected by large-scale construction projects. This exclusionary approach just serves to reinforce civic and economic disparities.

In making the film, my collaborators and I spent two months interviewing park goers, asking them what the park meant to them, how they use it, and how they would feel if access was limited. We shot the film all on Iphones, both to put people at ease and make it more of a conversation, but also to show that you don’t need fancy cameras to make movie. Across the board, park goers emphasized the impact the open space has on strengthening family bonds, the health benefits, as a place for communities to congregate. We used art as an adaptable tool to create more policy transparent and raise awareness, by making social issues both approachable and digestible. Art is a powerful yet low pressure form of engagement that has the unique ability to bring in people across sectors.

But I got frustrated with the limitations of the arts, because I felt that yes, I could engage people and in the process equalize access to information, but couldn’t affect any structural change in the follow through, and get at the reason why the community was not involved in the first place. The role our work played was almost incompatible with sustained presence with a particular issue, and it began to feel surface level. So that’s why I’m at SIPA! To cross what I perceived as limitations of filmmaking and cultural production, and learn about policy making and implementation. To be the policy maker that LISTENS to and works for the underrepresented. I’ll be taking key lessons I’ve learned from art-making with me for sure, namely that collaboration is essential in the formation of a project, because different perspectives engage and empower more people to take action to create a more equitable world - and that’s the point of it all. And to always make the effort to listen - which seems so simple, but takes time and emotional capacity.

So, if you’re interested in community development and the intersectionality of art and local Queens politics, come out on Wednesday October 25th to see Flushing Meadows Corona Park: What it’s Worth, and an additional short film on the developer-led ‘public’ transportation initiative Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX)! There will also be presentations from Queens grassroots groups about how you can participate in their efforts.

Wednesday, October 25th, 6:30-8:30 PM
Greater Astoria Historical Society, 3520 Broadway, 4th Floor, Long Island City, NY 11106
FREE! (snacks too!)
Transportation: Take the M60-SBS express bus from Amsterdam Av/w 120 St to Hoyt Av/31 St (Long Island City) and walk south to Broadway!