The Design Trust for Public Space recently partnered with the New York City Parks Department and the Queens Museum on a project to engage residents in a visioning process to tackle issues of connectivity (both physical and socio-political) between Flushing Meadows Corona Park and surrounding neighborhoods. Here, Community Advisor Jason Chin-Fatt talks about the proposal his team developed and his experience in community planning for one of the city’s great parks, located in one of the world’s most diverse locales. –J.T.
What is your relationship to the park?
Growing up I lived right by the park off College Point Boulevard, and I’d go there all the time with my family to hang out by the reservoir and the fields. Now I live in Woodside, which is a bit more of a ways away, but I usually pass through on weekend rides with my cycling group.
How did you hear about the Community Design School, and why did you want to be a part of the project?
I heard about it through Sustainable Queens, which I’ve been a part of for the last few years. I immediately thought it would be a great way for me to bring up all the things that are bad for cycling in the park — puddles all over the place, cracks in the sidewalks. But I ended up changing tracks; I wanted to work on a project that was larger than my own personal needs for the park. In a place like New York where we’re fighting for elbow room, we need these public spaces just for peace of mind.
Tell me about your experience of the process — what you liked, what was new, or what you found particularly useful.
I’ve been part of a lot of public engagement processes on transportation projects for my work with the Straphangers Campaign, a project of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). But this process was different because there are so many different users and uses for the park to take into account. In your typical community engagement process, you first get a plan from an agency. You can make minor changes, but it’s pretty much set in stone. We had a lot more control over what projects we were working on and how we were going to implement those, and even more control over the conversation and direction. The direct interfacing between our community and the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Transportation was also really important — you normally don’t have those conversations. The agencies were very open to all of our ideas and we got really good feedback. I’ve never been a part of a process that allowed that much freedom.
What do you think is the value of the focus on community design?
There were a lot of different proposals on the table for Flushing Meadows Corona Park two or three years ago, and a lot of people wanted to express their ideas for fixing up their park. I think the design school used that energy and turned it into something positive. People want to be able to leave their mark on their own community, and providing opportunities for that is the best way to make sure people are invested in the park. They’re always going to fight for it and make sure that it’s not repurposed for something else.
What issue did your team’s proposal hope to correct?
I wanted to see how people navigate the park, in the winter and in nicer weather. There are some signs telling you how to get to the Unisphere, but how do I get to the lake? How do I get to a bathroom? I ended up joining Team Navigation to work on these issues. Everybody brought a different perspective, which made me consider whether somebody was colorblind, if a sign was the right height, or if it would be visible at night. We wanted to make the signage universal so that language was not a barrier. But we also didn’t want to end up with signs everywhere. We finally came up with the idea of images painted on park paths that would lead folks to different areas. For the Unisphere, we could have a globe that would be large at park entrances and would gradually get smaller as you got closer to the site. We’d also hope to create more traditional, free-standing signs. We’re working with the Queens Museum and the company producing the park signs to actually implement the project.
What are the next steps?
At the opening of our exhibition at the Queens Museum, we signed up community members to help us develop more symbols for different amenities and sites. We also hope those volunteers will help us stencil and paint those symbols onto the ground over the summer. I think that’s a great way to involve the wider community in this process and promote community investment in the park — they’re literally putting their stamp on it.