The Real Problem With Willets Point

picture 7 The Real Problem With Willets Point

Disconcertingly disconnected. Click to zoom in for a better view. (Bing Maps)

A reader sends along this thoughtful critique of the problems inherent in the latest plans for Willets Point:

What a horrible idea. A parking lot and a mall? That neighborhood is a mess already, though. Just a few hundred feet from the bay in one direction and Flushing Meadows in the other, and they’re both nearly impossible to access. It should be a wonderful spot to hang out before a ballgame, and instead it’s just a tangle of highways. Thank you, Robert Moses.

It’s a very interesting point, and perhaps points to a better way forward for this forlorn corner of the city.

After all, just look at this picture. A giant parking lot on one side, a giant (though very vibrant) pit on the other. All of it surrounded by a mess of highways, just beyond, lush lawns and open water. Indeed, this was the fine work of Robert Moses, master of the World(‘s Fair), so it makes sense that roads are bisecting and bifurcating everything, keeping the various masses, washed and unwashed, from crossing paths.

But this has been less the prerogative of this mayor, thankfully, which is why the decision to go all cars-n-malls—yes, even in Queens—makes so little sense. This is still a dense area, one well-served by mass-transit, one begging for improvement. The proposal for two huge malls actually makes the original plan conceived by the mayor five years ago, to build an actual neighborhood here, look even more impressive than it already did. Something new, with plenty of jobs and affordable housing, maybe even a convention center.

Now, instead, Queens is getting more suburban development, when it deserves better. As our reader points out, wouldn’t it be nice to extend the park all the way up, doubling it in size? Here is a place where capping some railyards would make sense—push the development to the edges, and open up the rest. Madison Square Garden has no parking, and it gets along fine.

There is the added advantage that the expense of remediation and infrastructure to build up Willets Point to where it needs to be—it’s seven feet below the flood plane in some places—would be considerably cheaper were it to be turned into a park rather than streets and homes and shopping malls. Instead, we sell it off to the highest bidder, and do their bidding at that, so that the development might commence cost-free. We already know that is how the administration likes to do business.

Which is not all bad. Times are tough, money is tight, would anything really happen without some private help? Probably not. No plans have yet been unveiled, so it remains to early to judge, but for the city’s sake, whatever gets built here, may it be as innovative and ambitious as what came before.

mchaban [at] observer.com | @MC_NYC