New York City's High Line definitely wasn’t the first abandoned rail line to be turned into a park—one of its inspirations came from the Promenade Plantee, built almost 20 years earlier in Paris. But the Manhattan park, opened in 2009, has spawned similar ideas around the world, from a crowdfunded skybridge in the Netherlands to an underground garden in London. And now there might be another elevated rail park in New York City.
The Queensway, a 3.5-mile stretch of abandoned track in Queens, hasn’t been used since the 1950s. Since turning it back into a railway would be difficult and expensive, nonprofits like the Trust for Public Land and Friends of the Queensway are pushing to create a new park instead that would connect pedestrians and bikers to other nearby green space. What will it look like? While others conduct a feasibility study, more than 100 architects submitted ideas for one corner of the new park for the Queensway Connection competition.
"We thought it could be a very interesting counterpoint to the High Line," says Sean Rasmussen, co-chair of Emerging New York Architects, the group that hosted the contest. "It’s in a very different part of the city—the resources are different, the density is different, the proximity to public transportation is also different."
Concerned about their privacy and security, some nearby neighbors in Queens don’t want the park to happen, even though the tracks are overgrown, filled with trash, and too dangerous to walk on. "Some people say ‘Why turn this into a park?’" says Rasmussen, who lives in the neighborhood. "There are plenty of parks in that area. But those parks, socially speaking, are dead. There’s no social environment there. I think that’s one thing that’s great about certain parks, like Washington Square—there's an urban spectacle there that we think should be brought to that area of Queens."
The contest asked designers to imagine how one particular area of the park, an entrance on the southern end, could be more than only a green space. "We’re hoping to blur the boundaries between public and private with this, and come up with creative and provocative programmatic ideas, so it’s not just a park," Rasmussen adds.
One of the winning designs includes a public market below the rail line, and an honorable mention includes a kitchen garden for neighbors, concert space, and a community center. Another entry proposes a crazy-looking rollercoaster-like path to attract visitors. The first place winner, which is a little more subtle, opens up a former rail station with a wide series of steps leading up to the park.
None of these specific ideas will be built; the park still has to get funding and go through a long series of approvals. But ENYA hopes that the ideas will help provide some inspiration and get more supporters on board.
"This is all very hypothetical," Rasmussen says. "But our hope is that the people who are going to actually be conducting the design exercises will infuse some of these ideas from around the world into their work. Our goal is not to present the solution, but to present the spectrum of possible solutions for people to get on board and rally around, and to help think through all the possibilities."