LaGuardia Landing Lights Park
This unconventional park was created in 1958 when the Port Authority surrendered nine parcels of land to the City for park purposes. They are situated in lots that follow the flight path to the airport, stretching from 78th Street and 25th Avenue to the Grand Central Parkway. Their placement is mandated by Federal Aviation Administration regulations, which require a swath of clear land in approaches leading up to airport runways. The park’s landing lights are maintained by the Port Authority, and the land itself can only be used for park purposes, according to an agreement between the Port Authority and the City.
Fiorello H. La Guardia (1882–1947), for whom La Guardia Airport is named, was born in Greenwich Village, the son of a United States Army bandleader. He received his law degree from New York University, was admitted to the bar in 1910 and became the nation’s first Italian-American Congressman in 1916. La Guardia held various Congressional posts until 1932, and served as president of New York City’s Board of Aldermen from 1920 to 1921.
In 1933, La Guardia was elected mayor on a reform Fusion ticket following the scandals which had forced Mayor James J. Walker (1881–1946) from office, and he was inaugurated on New Year’s Day, 1934. Over the next 12 years La Guardia left a distinctive mark on the City; he unified and modernized the public transit system, consolidated and centralized much of the city government, cracked down on illegal gambling, and began transportation projects that built the City’s bridges, tunnels, parkways, and airports.
Although the two men disagreed about the airport project, La Guardia and Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888–1981) embarked on an unprecedented expansion of the New York City parks system throughout the 1930s and early 1940s. Originally known as North Beach Airport, the site for the airport was once an amusement park. In 1929 it became a privately owned landing strip, then in 1935 it was chosen by Mayor La Guardia for its water approach--which facilitated landings and mitigated loss of neighborhoods--for its proximity to Manhattan.
On September 9, 1937, Mayor La Guardia broke ground on the site by commandeering a steam shovel for the symbolic start of the massive project, which was funded through a $45 million Federal Works Progress Administration grant. More than half of the 558 acres on which the airport was built was man made, filled in with more than 17 million cubic yards of cinders, ashes and trash.
The new airport, called New York City Municipal Airport, was one of many transportation projects built or begun in the 1930s to modernize the City’s infrastructure. When it opened, the airport accommodated both domestic and transoceanic flights, and was trumpeted as a state-of-the-art facility in an age when air travel was starting to overtake other forms of transportation. “No effort has been spared . . . in making [the airport] worthy of the new world, an airport unsurpassed and even unrivaled in utility, capacity, safety, convenience and beauty,” boasted publicity pamphlets for the project.
In August 1940, the Board of Estimate named the airport for La Guardia, who considered the project one of his greatest achievements. He visited the airport frequently, sometimes stopping in after bad weather shut it down to ensure the facility’s bathrooms were clean. In 1942, three of the runways began sinking into the landfill, and in 1947, with the airport financially insolvent, the Port Authority assumed operation of the facility. Two more parcels were added to the swath of land in 1960. Today, La Guardia is one of the busiest airports in the nation, serving millions of passengers each year.
From Community Board 3 Landing Lights page
(See below External Link for original.)
The following summarizes the opportunity and prospects for a community improvement plan in the northwest section of the district, the Landing Lights Park area. - Thomas Lowenhaupt
Several events have converged to present Queens Community Board 3 with a grand opportunity to lead a significant new community improvement project: the Landing Lights Area Improvement Project. The events include:
- The transfer of the baseball field property from DCAS to the Parks Department.
- The extension of the LaGuardia Airport Lease to the year 2050 and the creation of a $100 million Queens Airport Projects Fund for use in local capital efforts.
- The expansion plans of Vaughn College, adjacent to the park.
- The Greenway bike path that seeks a route through north end of the park.
Making the effort particularly appealing is the existence of the Airport Projects Fund. The Fund was created with the recognition that "the operation of the Marine Air Terminals (LaGuardia &Kennedy Airports) has a wide-ranging impact on the Borough of Queens in the City of New York." And there is no more deserving a project than one that improves the lives of the neighbors surrounding Landing Lights Park, for they shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden of city life.
While the Airport Projects Fund provides a unique opportunity to remedy environmental damages and enhance the economic vitality of the area, there are many resources available to reduce air and noise pollution, and make the barren Landing Lights fields into a beautiful addition to our community and city. The following is a list of potential project funding sources:
- Airport Lease Development Fund ($100,000,000 over 5 years)
- General Fund ($4 billion airport revenue over lease period)
- Parks Department Capital and Expense Budgets
- Airport Improvement Fund (noise abatement)
- Council Members
- Community Board 3
The project will have the strong support from the surrounding community as evidenced by the 40 + residents attending a Junuary 2006 Community Board 3 Parks Committee meeting at Our Lady of Fatima: When appraised of the Airport Fund opportunity they pleaded, “Please lead us, let us know how to do it.”
The resident drawing above was submitted at the January Our Lady of Fatima meeting as a vision of how one of the eight park sections might be developed. Others at the meeting urged "Don't forget to do something in front of my house."
Landing Lights Area Development Project
Residents, businesses, and organizations will support and benefit from this effort. Already the North Queens Homeowners Association and Jackson Heights Neighborhood Association have indicated their support the idea. Vaughn College indicated it would like to see the park as an extension of its campus.
Ad Hoc Landing Lights Park Area Improvement Committee
It has been proposed that Community Board 3 create an Ad Hoc Landing Lights Area Improvement Committee to work with community residents on a community improvements plan. And that such plan should seek Airport Capital and other funds in support of the commuity effort.
The Ad Hoc Committee's first task would be to engage local stakeholders in developing the improvement plan. Stakeholders are to include, community residents, civic organizations, institutions, businesses, the community board, and elected representatives. This stakeholder group would consider improvements to include, but not limited to, actions that improve air quality, reduce noise pollution, improve traffic and parking, and park features.
Many Community Board 3 committees would have a hand in the plan's design, providing member expertise and drawing on community residents and resources.
- Airport - Determine the extent of existing federal funds available for noise reduction and how they may be applied to community needs. A Port Authority representative stated that the Phase 1 uses of federal noise reduction funds - for school windows - was nearly completed and the community must set a new priority. The committee must assure that the Airport Lease Fund is not substituted for this, or other ongoing federal commitments. Track the status of the allocation of the Airport Lease Fund. Attend meetings related to the Airport Lease Fund.
- Business Development – With the Airport Lease Fund dedicated to capital projects, the committee must highlight the project’s capital aspects and engage businesses and institutions in the effort. The committee might suggest ways to present the improvement plan through an economic lens: how it helps Vaughn College recruit students; how it increases home values; how it improves the value of adjacent industrial and commercial land. All viewed through an economic development lens.
- Capital & Expense Budget – A Landing Lights Improvement Project can call upon funds from a variety of sources: Airport Lease Fund ($100,000,000 over 5 years); General Fund ($4 billion airport revenue over lease period); Parks Department Capital and Expense Budgets; Greenstreets; Council Members; Community Board 3; Grants; and other sources.
- Education – The recruitment of schools and students as garden developers might provide one avenue for school involvement.
- Health & Social Services – Noise and air pollution are persistent and detrimental to our community. Noise and pollution make the adjacent M1 area less valuable for development as well as devaluing area homes. Air quality remains a top priority on Board 3's annual Budget Priorities List.
- Housing – This is high on the mayors list and perhaps might have a role to play. Some park parcels might be used for housing with land swapped for other park land.
- Landmarks – Review if there are any facilities worthy of landmark consideration. Check historic maps to learn about the foundation remnants in the park.
- Land Use Review – Review the areas land use (R4 and M1) to determine if any changes are imminent or advisable.
- Parks & Recreation – Park improvements are one key deliverable that might arise from the effort. The Parks Committee's key role would be to engage the community in imagining the park they's like to see and selecting park features and designs to meet the dream.
- Public Safety – How can we incorporate the latest thinking into park safety, both from crime prevention and safe activity perspectives? What relationships with the neighbors and police department should be developed? Is there technology that might facilitate a safe park? How do you install a bench that promotes community rather than roudy behavior?
- Environment / Sanitation – Air and noise pollution are significant community concerns. What type of trees would reduce noise and air pollution? Where should they be placed? Can more trees be placed along Grand Central PARKway? What noise reduction programs and technologies can be included?
- Technology Advisory – The project’s design, development, and presentation to the various funders can be significantly enhanced using advanced presentation technology. In particular, the web and Secondlife.com provide leading edge access, organizing, and presentation capabilities that can stand out vs. other fund seekers. See Democracy Island on secondlife.com for a preliminary view of the project’s presentation potential.
- Traffic &Transportation – Parking issues are of great concern to the community. What signage issues, street direction, speed humps, and closings are desired and possible? Street trees along Grand Central PARKway will be a focus of this committee. Also, the Greenstreets can be directed to portions of the effort.
- Youth Services Planning – Our community’s youth can become more familiar with the workings of their government through engagement in this project. The Landing Lights Park design process on SecondLife.com can provide them with a familiarity with the modeling and construction process enabled by that technology.
Such a broad community engagement would offer many benefits:
- Enhance quality of life of the neighborhood's residents.
- Create a better business environment.
- Make adjacent M1 zone areas more developable for human scale usages.
- Improve Vaughn College campus.
- Provide an opportunity for community and community board members to work together.
- Demonstrate to the community the key role the board can play.
- Increase the value of homes in the area.
A community plan of this sort enables residents, developers, local businesses, and institutions creating the plan to say, "We agree on this plan. You can bank on it." This offers several benefits:
- It enables local homeowners to say to prospective buyers, "Here's what the commuity will look like in the future."
- It enables developers to made sound decisions about investing in the area, knowing that a proposal that fits within a community plan will likely pass community review processes.
- It enables the community's elected representatives to invest in projects that are part of the plan, knowing that residents have deemed them appropriate.
- Park Model on New York Law School's Democracy Island
One of the resources available for planning improvements is a 3D model of the park that was created on Democracy Island. New York Law School purchased the "Island" in the secondlife.com virtual word, and has made it available to Community Board 3 to help the local community better envision the possibilities. The following links relate to the 3D model on Democracy Island.
- For background on New York Law School's involvement, see its Democracy Design Workshop.
- For a status report on New York Law School's involvement, see the Law School's Democracy Island Blog.
- To enter your thoughts on the real or virtual park, see The Landing Lights Island Wiki.
- Visit Landing Lights Park on Democracy Island. (Requires signing up for free secondlife account.)
- See a May 2006 Wired Magazine article on Landing Lights Park.
- A Juggernaut Club is being formed to help engage youth in the metaverse and park design effort.
Landing Lights Park Documents
The following clips are from City Planning Commission and Community Board 3 documents on Landing Lights Park.
From CITY PLANNING COMMISSION - March 10, 2004/Calendar No. 33 C 040191 PPQ
IN THE MATTER OF an application submitted by the New York City Department of Small Business Services and the Economic Development Corporation, pursuant to Section 197-c of New York City Charter, for the disposition to the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey of city-owned properties located at John F. Kennedy and La Guardia Airports, restricted to airport uses and uses ancillary thereto, Community Districts 1, 3, 7, 10, 12, 13, and 14, Borough of Queens.
"LANDING LIGHTS PROPERTY
There are eight (8) sites known as the landing lights property located with C.B. #3. Currently, the Department of Parks is responsible for maintenance. The Port Authority is asked to provide funds to Parks Department to cover the expenses for maintaining said property and upgrade these sites by planting trees and installing benches for public use."
From Community Board 3's January 15 2004 monthly meeting report.
"ULURP 040191 PPQ – An application to extend Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s lease to operate LaGuardia and J.F.K. Airports until 2050.
With a non-conforming vote of 12 in favor, and 1 abstention, the Board recommends approval for the renewal of the lease agreement to allow the Port Authority to operate LaGuardia and J.F.K. Airports until 2050 with the following conditions:
- Airport Board – The City’s appointees to the Airport Board should include: (a) The Borough President; (b) Boards directly affected by the airports and elected officials.
- 50 Million Dollars – The funds that will be allocated by the Port Authority be directed to Capital Projects for the (7) seven Community Boards that are directly impacted by the airports. In addition, all projects will be subject to the review and approval of the Queens Borough Board annually.
- Terms of the Lease Agreement – The lease agreement must be reviewed for an increase, a minimum of every five years to address inflation and other expenses that may occur over the next 50 years.
- Landing Lights Property – There are eight (8) sites known as the landing lights property located with C.B. Board #3. Currently the Department of Parks is responsible for maintenance. The Port Authority is asked to provide funds to Parks Department to cover the expenses for maintaining said property and upgrade these sites by planting trees and installing benches for public use.
- Audit Report of Environmental Conditions – Port Authority provide an audit report on water, air and land conditions in the communities that are directly impacted by the airports – an annual environmental quality review.
- Black Cars – Request Port Authority has greater involvement in getting the black cars off of residential streets and into airport parking.
- Master Plan – Port Authority provide the master plan for the development of LaGuardia Airport.
- Noise – Port Authority continues to work towards reducing noise pollution."
To Do / Notes / Keep in Mind
- See CB3 site for pictures
Meeting Notifications: use publicity, invitation, announcement, and outreach.
Engage the civic, business, and government sectors. Evaluate ways the .NYC TLD might be used in the park planning effort. Help create a Friends of the Park. Put Welcome Kiosks throughout the virtual park. Set up meeting with federal representative to discuss noise abatement funds. See the July 19, 2006 NY1 article on Landing Lights Park. Los Angeles park proposal