A Park Fit For Queens

A rendering of the new park, with apartment towers rising behind it.
ARUP, Thomas Balsley, Weiss/Manfredi/Courtesy NYC EDC

As if developing affordable housing were not hard enough, carving out a slice for middle- and moderate-income New Yorkers is even harder. The Hunter’s Point South project was developed largely to address that problem, and with the city’s acquisition of the 30-acre spit of land just south of the Queensboro Bridge today—along with the release of new plans for the complex’s 11 acres of waterfront open space—this community-in-the-making can move forward.

“With the acquisition of the site and the start of the design work,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said in a statement, “we are setting the stage for the largest investment in permanently affordable housing for our police officers, nurses, teachers and public employees and other middle income New Yorkers.”

The city’s Economic Development Corporation paid $100 million to the Empire State Development Corporation and the Port Authority for the land. It will house dozens of apartment towers similar to those at the Queens West development to the north. Of the 5,000 units that will be created, roughly 60 percent will be affordable, targeted to New Yorkers making between $55,000 and $158,000.

The concept plan for the new park. (Click to Enlarge)
ARUP, Thomas Balsley, Weiss/Manfredi/Courtesy NYC EDC

The project sits on the former site of the Daily News’ printing plant. Originally planned as the third and fourth phases of Queens West, the project stalled during the early ‘90s recession. Revived by the mayor as part of the city’s 2012 Olympic bid, it was later repurposed for affordable housing, and the 30-acre site was rezoned last year.

A key part of the plan is reconnecting Queens with its formerly industrial waterfront. To this end the city hired landscape architecture firm Thomas Balsley Associates, who have brought on Weiss/Manfredi as co-designers of the waterfront parkland. Arup is responsible for all engineering on the site, as well as project management.

“It’s nice to bring a park like this anywhere, but especially nice to bring it to an underserved corner of Queens,” Thomas Balsley said in a telephone interview. The architect happens to have experience in the area, as he developed the open space plan for Queens West.

Balsley described the new park as a seemless progression from the man-made to the natural, as it transitions from open recreational fields, concession stands, and an urban beach into lagoons and picnic lawns. But rather than create signage making these uses explicit, the designers are taking a more intuitive approach, letting the landscape direct the users. There is also a linear park that reaches up one of the central streets, creating a clear link between the park and its new neighborhood and helping to drawn residents in.

Details of the Promontory and Linear Park, with conceptual inspiration.
 
 

The Green, a massive ovoid lawn, will be a focal point, while the playground and basketball courts located just north, in the Grove, will be dotted with trees to emphasize a remove from the city beyond. To the south are tighter paths and more passive recreation. A small peninsula is where native species begin to take over, leading to a 25-foot-high promontory created by infill originally trucked in to make space for the printing plant. “That’s an elevation one does not experience in any park on the East River, so we wanted to keep it intact,” Balsley said.

While most of the park’s waterfront edges will be protected, get-downs will allow direct access to the water. In at least two places, paths will be built up to provide observation decks, as will the roof of the multi-use building just to the Green’s south. On the southern tip, at the mouth of Newtown Creek, will be a kayak launch. Balsley said the mix of uses would be similar to those in his work on Riverside Park South.

“We’re not dictating much,” Balsley said. “We think people find their own spots, and our job is to set the stage for that to happen.

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