The powerfully connected proponents of the QueensWay — a misguided plan to turn the Rockaway Beach Branch ROW into a park — are pulling out all the stops as they forge forward with their plans. Earlier this week, an email from the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects arrived in my inbox trumpeted the annual AIANY Emerging New York Architects design competition, and the subject is the QueensWay. On August 22, ENYA will launch the 2014 version of its biennial contest that calls upon young architects to design “a viable green space” for the park.
In literature associated with the competition’s upcoming launch, ENYA refers to the QueensWay as “an abandoned elevated railway snaking through some of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in central and southern Queens.” The contest will focus around designs that “include a strong connection between the proposed elevated park and the adjacent urban fabric below” in an effort to create “a community hub which extends the street activity up to the future park.” In the past, QueensWay proponents have seemingly wanted to remove activity from the street into the future park.
Now, this competition, led up by Adrian Benepe, former Parks Department head Senior Vice President of The Trust for Public Land and representatives of Friends of the QueensWay, is all well and good, but where’s the competing rail contest? The need to consider some rail connection via the Rockaway Beach Branch Line is evident, and Albany voices have been calling for a study for months. Maybe such a study would show a clear need and way forward for the restoration of rail service; maybe a study would show that rail service is unnecessary and impractical. Either way, before we proclaim the QueensWay the future, the rail study must go forward.
Ultimately, ENYA’s contest is a failure in creativity before it begins. It’s convenient for them to support the QueensWay, but imagine what a bunch of young architects could design if the task involved putting forward a proposal for rail as well. A future-forward vision of rail for young designers is exactly would this project needs. The Queensway, well, that will look just like any other rails-to-trails park.