Throughout the debate over the future of the unused LIRR Rockabway Beach Branch right-of-way, I’ve frequently returned to a point about branding. While many QueensWay proponents understand the difference between the proposed greenspace in Queens and the High Line, media coverage has trumpeted the park as a High Line in Queens, and considering the popularity of the High Line, few Friends of the QueensWay are rushing to issue a correction.
The QueensWay, though, isn’t the High Line for reasons relating to geographic and population. Chelsea was the ideal place for a successful elevated park. It was already a tourist destination and already an expensive and popular neighborhood. The corridor from Rego Park to Ozone Park is, as New York City neighborhoods go, off the beaten track. It’s not in the guidebooks, and the residents are fine with that. It’s not as densely populated as the High Line area and not as well trafficked.
That’s the point made in a post on The Architect’s Newspaper today. Don’t call it a High Line, says B. Tyler Silvestro. He writes:
The proposal calls for the connection of ecologies to be the guiding framework. “QueensWay with sensitive design can become a critical artery of green open space for a diverse, vibrant community, offering opportunities for recreation, education, community gathering, and ecological productivity to our great city,” said dlandstudio’s Susannah Drake in a statement. Claire Weisz, principal at WXY agreed, “This study is an important next step in making the vision of reclaiming the QueensWay as a green connector and cultural corridor a reality.”
What they did not see was the High Line. The skyrocketing real estate value surrounding Manhattan’s famed elevated park is not the anticipated outcome of a park in Queens. Nor is it the intention. Both Rego Park and Ozone Park (neither of which are parks) are sorely lacking open space, and it is TPL’s ambition that the QueensWay will bring needed green space and more. “Boosting the local economy, activating abandoned and unsafe property, and accommodating bicycles—all with the goal of improving quality of life and connecting diverse neighborhoods.”
It’s a key distinction in the debate over the future of the right-of-way. Creating greenspace and bike infrastructure is a laudable goal; restoring rail service too would be a laudable goal. But converting the ROW into a park without ensuring that rail is impossible must take priority, and that means recognizing that QueensWay won’t, can’t be and shouldn’t be a High Line for a different borough. It serves a more functional purpose but so does rail. Balancing the two complementary and competing uses is a tricky proposition.