A linear park in Jackson Heights – Queens Daily Eagle
By Luz Maria Mercado
I moved to Jackson Heights when I was nine, with my mom. As a child, I rode my bike on 34th Avenue. I remember being really scared that a car would hit me and sometimes I was driving on the sidewalk, but people were yelling at me. I knew you weren’t supposed to be riding on the sidewalk, but there was nowhere safe to go and fear would catch up with me.
I had family in Middle Village who lived two blocks from Juniper Park. I loved going to their house and enjoyed the park with them. I always felt envious of what they had, of a safe place they could go to play, have a picnic, right on their doorstep. We didn’t have a place to go to enjoy the green spaces – we had to get to their house or Flushing Meadows by subway.
As a teenager, I went to a Catholic girl’s high school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and felt that way again. I made friends who lived near Central Park, and others lived near Astoria Park. . I always thought it was very unfair how some neighborhoods had that kind of space available to them, but a neighborhood like mine didn’t.
Jackson Heights Green Space is in the Garden District. Many buildings span almost a block with lush private gardens in the center. I was only vaguely aware of this as a kid, I thought passively, “This is for the rich in Jackson Heights, not for us.” I didn’t have a garden, neither did my friends.
As an adult, raising my own children in the community where I grew up, I felt the same pain. Before the pandemic, my kids would like to cycle around the neighborhood, but it was too dangerous. I wouldn’t let them. I remember a few years ago a student in IS 145 was hit by a car leaving the school. Our babysitter was crying when I got home. It could have been my child, it could have been any of our children. There are six public schools on 34th Avenue and two preschools. It should be a right. Children need to be safe to go and leave school.
This past year, although it has been a difficult year, Open Street on 34th Avenue has changed everything. It gave my children a sense of independence – but with security. It’s a safer place for them to drive around and search for certain things, like cars on the streets, paying attention to lights – but don’t worry about a car driving over them, or a car driving over them. going full speed that will take them down. I don’t feel that anxiety that I felt as a teenager on these avenues. As a parent, I am relieved and proud that they can have their independence. Because the open street is only a temporary solution, we still need to be careful of speeding e-bikes and mopeds that conflict with pedestrians, but a well-designed linear park with community participation will be able to fix these issues, making it even safer for everyone.
For the past 13 years, I have worked from home on Mondays, my window facing 34th Avenue. Outside I could hear cars running, engines running, horns, loud music. And I would try to dismiss it, but these are stressful sounds. Now I hear the birds singing, the people laughing, the children playing – it’s such a beautiful symphony. It looks like a neighborhood.
I spent my childhood dreaming of green spaces in my own backyard here in Jackson Heights – never thinking it was possible. Now I know it, but we have to fight for it. I support a linear park on 34th Avenue – for the child in me, for my children – for all my neighbors who need us to fight for them, for our whole community.
Luz Maria Mercado is originally from Queens and an activist. She lives on 34th Avenue with her husband and two children.