Last Wednesday, dozens of elected officials, local advocates and community members rallied in support of the creation of BQGreen, a proposed park that would be built on a platform over the lowered portion of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE).
Park advocates have pushed the idea for nearly a decade, including the release of a feasibility study in 2010 that laid out the public benefits and costs of a green space connecting smaller parks along the expressway.
“The asthma and respiratory epidemic caused by the BQE and toxic emissions has to end now,” said Raul Flores, a community organizer with the local organization Southside United, also known as Los Sures. “The best solution to solve this environmental injustice is the construction of the BQGreen community park now.”
Flores said the southside of Williamsburg lacks green spaces, and has one of the highest asthma rates in the city. According to a Department of Health 2015 community profile, Greenpoint and Williamsburg ranked 8th in air pollution in New York City.
The north Brooklyn neighborhoods had 10.1 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter, compared to the citywide average of 8.6 micrograms.
“Most of our parks, if you look around, they don’t have grass, they have asphalt or concrete,” Flores said. “Our seniors, kids and community members deserve to breathe cleaner air.”
According to the 2010 study, BQGreen would increase park space by 30 percent in the neighborhood. Advocates estimated it could reduce asthma by as much as 25 percent.
Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna, who championed the park when she served in the City Council, said roughly 7,000 young people under the age of 20 live within a six-block radius of the area.
According to Reyna, more than 108,000 cars pass on the BQE daily, emitting 20 pounds of pollution per day.
“Today, our lungs are filled with pollutants, we are dying right now,” she said. “This is a public health emergency.”
Along with fellow elected officials, she called on Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo to “pay attention” and take up the project.
“We are still waiting for Mayor de Blasio to pay us a visit and understand the gravity of this public health emergency,” Reyna said. “It is long overdue, it is our ask, it is the right time, it is important to us.”
Assemblywoman Maritza Davila added she’ll discuss BQGreen with the governor and the importance of the green space.
“Can you imagine what’s happening now with all these towering buildings? It’s even needed more so,” she said. “The congestion of all of these cars are causing harm to our children.”
According to the feasibility study, the park would provide more than 200 construction jobs and produce $245 million in economic activity. It also estimated an annual gain of $5 million in local retail sales and $16 million in increased real estate value.
BQGreen proponents hope new property tax revenues from development spurred by the park can help defray the costs.
Councilman Antonio Reynoso, who now represents the area in the City Council, said when Robert Moses built the BQE, he “didn’t care about people,” but rather about cars.
“After splitting our community over 40 years ago, now we’re going to unite it with a Central Park here in Williamsburg once and for all,” Reynoso said, “so we can finally get justice in our community on the southside.”
Public Advocate Letitia James also lent her support to the project. She said Moses divided many communities of color by building highways between them, displacing whole neighborhoods. She called it “misguided community and city planning.”
James noted that another community she used to represent in the City Council, Fort Greene, also suffered from low air qualities because the BQE runs through that neighborhood.
“A neighborhood that is sandwiched between waste transfer stations and a major highway, who is going to stand for them?” she said. “This community has been ignored for far too long. It’s time that this neighborhood gets the attention that they deserve.”
Flores, who donned a gas mask to demonstrate the severity of the area’s asthma problems, said they’re conducting another study for BQGreen because the neighborhood has changed drastically since the first feasibility study. He hopes to see “concrete building” in about five years.
“The first two years is going to be fundraising and advocacy,” he said. “But it is in motion, that’s the important part.”