A Dream for Lt. Frank McConnell Park

0
421

By Aminta Kilawan Narine, Esq.

What are some signs that a community is flourishing? Could it be a robust local economy? A strong social fabric or “sense of place”? Increased employment opportunities? Quality infrastructure such as roads and sanitation? Or perhaps, the clearest sign is access to recreational areas and public spaces.

The South Queens neighborhoods of South Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park, in particular those areas saturated by South Asians and Indo-Caribbeans are sorely lacking public spaces. There are few secular, inclusive gathering spaces in our community. We are seeing a zeitgeist with community-based and grassroots organizations promoting civic engagement on the streets of our neighborhoods. Over the last several years, these neighborhoods have bustled with street festivals – large and small – as well as rallies, food pantries, press conferences, giveaways and more. Yet, finding an appropriate outdoor gathering spot without having to apply for a permit has proven challenging for many organizers.

Local non-profit organization Chhaya CDC (Chhaya) is looking to activate Lt. Frank McConnell Park, located at Lefferts Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue in South Richmond Hill. Chhaya was founded to respond to the housing and economic needs for low-income South Asian and Indo-Caribbean New Yorkers. For over two decades, the organization has provided direct services to thousands of Queens residents and has championed many key policy issues impacting immigrants, including basement legalization, language access, and tenants rights.

Chhaya is one of five organizations chosen to lead projects that celebrate local cultures and histories in public spaces. In collaboration with the Urban Design Forum and the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), the organization has been channeling energy into the possibility of transforming this park into a beacon of community and culture. Partnering with Studio Fōr and Hive Public Space, the organization hopes to bring a dream for Lt. Frank McConnell Park alive. What could this activation look like? If community members corral behind this effort, the park could finally create an inclusive, secular space where residents are able to gather. The space could foster artistic expression, share resources, build political power, and engage with each other. Historically, South Asians and Indo-Caribbeans in the aforementioned neighborhoods have been underrepresented and overlooked. Recent street co-namings of Little Guyana Avenue, Little Punjab Avenue and Trinidad and Tobago Street have certainly visibilized the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean enclaves in South Queens, however a designated area that fosters a sense of belonging and community engagement could change the landscape of the neighborhoods and promote neighborly camaraderie.

On Saturday, December 16 from 11am to 2pm, Chhaya is hosting a winter festival at the park. The festival will serve as an opportunity for community members to learn more about this project and to dream up a vision for the park that takes their perspectives into account. Chhaya encourages all to come out, enjoy free chai, and collectively make memories this holiday season.