The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

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Darkness and cold, it’s all darkness and cold.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So far this week we’ve established a few things – the physical dimensions of a size 18 EEEEEE male foot, that Astoria’s 31st street used to be call Debevoise Avenue prior to the 20th century, and the convoluted and confusing history of the Astoria line elevated tracks which have defined the street since at least February of 1917 (I have no idea when construction on the “El” began, whether in 1915 or 1916 or whenever) have been explored. My “constitutional” stroll, which is how I refer to a short 90 minute walk “around” the neighborhood, found me turning north on 31st street and heading towards Astoria Blvd. from Broadway.

Along my way, I kept on wondering why it is that for the last century or so seemingly everybody over in Manhattan who has had a bright idea about how to “fix” Queens has been handed de facto Carte Blanche to explore and build their scheme. You don’t find a “Utopia Parkway” in other boroughs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From a city planning perspective, Astoria Blvd. can easily be analogized as a “municipal sacrifice zone.” First, however, I have to state my perception of Astoria itself being composed of three distinct neighborhoods. Two of them are divided by Astoria Blvd., with the commercial strips of 30th Avenue and Broadway defining the southern one, and the commercial strip along Ditmars Blvd. defining the northern one. The remaining section is defined by and found west of Crescent Street. Again, that’s my perception, and unfortunately the Real Estate Industrial Complex is constantly trying to redefine the ancient village with names like “Eastoria,” “Westoria” and so on. Sigh.

In 1922, a group of Queens based planners proposed the creation of a “scenic drive” which would start at Astoria’s East River waterfront, travel along Astoria Blvd., and hug the northern shoreline of the borough all the way east to the Nassau County line. Robert Moses liked that idea, and especially so when he began working on the Triborough Bridge. The first nine miles of the Grand Central Parkway, between Kew Gardens and Glen Oaks, opened in 1933. Moses has to find a way to pay for and build what he called “the missing link,” however. The missing link would connect Long Island’s Nassau County to his bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

July 11th of 1936 is the day that the Triborough Bridge opened for traffic. Moses made a deal with the Federal Public Works Administration allowing him to spend $44 million – that they allocated for the approach roads to the bridge complex – to construct the seven and a half mile long “missing link.” The Grand Central was dug into a trench through Astoria, coming back up to the surface at East Elmhurst, where it runs to Flushing on a shoreline extension into Flushing Bay composed of landfill sand (which Moses brought in from his various beach projects in Rockaway). The parkway has been widened and deepened multiple times in the eight decades since, but the blighting divisions in Astoria have remained constant.

Last time I checked, some 180,000 vehicles a day exit and enter the Triborough Bridge complex via the Grand Central Parkway. As a note, the reason it’s called a “parkway” as opposed to a highway or expressway is because the shoulders of the road are planted. Once upon a time, there were apparently pedestrian pathways in those planted shoulders.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 31, 2019 at 11:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. It should be noted that much of Queens was undeveloped up through the 1940’s and as such was something of a laboratory for city planners. It should also be noted that Manhattan was then overcrowded and diseases most notably tuberculosis and polio burned through the populations. So disease, overcrowding and sanitation were foremost on their minds and how to solve these problems was being explored.
    Here’s a documentary, The City (1939) which details much of the thinking of the time:

    New developments in the borough offered cheap land and houses that attracted Manhattan tenement dwellers with the promise of an affordable better standard of living. Overall, mostly a good thing.

    That was then, now it’s nothing more than intellectually mediocre and or true believers in the latest progressive fads bureaucrats trying to earn their stripes as “technocrats” (a bureaucrat with delusions of grandeur) and impress their bosses with just how clever they are with new, cool sounding, trendy ideas. Well, we could add to that elected politicians and sundry apparatchiks either rewarding friends or punishing enemy populations with their diktats. The growing of the Idiocracy here in the People’s Banana Empire of New York.

    Donald Cavaioli

    Cav

    January 31, 2019 at 12:07 pm

  2. “Robert Moses liked that idea”

    So Began many a tragedy…the high/”park/express-ways, whatever you wanna call ’em…sucked for the hoods they destroyed to put up on…but they are as impenetrable as mountain ranges and oceans now. I very much like Moses’ legacy in that regard: his through-ways became my “walls”. If you are up against such a thing, it limits how many neighbors you can ultimately have cheek-to-jowl.

    Tommy Efreeti

    January 31, 2019 at 1:47 pm


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