By Eric Yun
In the summer of 2006, blackouts in Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside persisted for weeks and left more than 100,000 residents without power. As a result of the subsequent outrage, Con Edison reached an $8 million settlement with community groups to fund green initiatives.
North Star Fund, a nonprofit organization that supports grassroots campaigns, teamed up with the Western Queens Power for the People campaign, which formed as a result of the power outages, to distribute the funds.
Fifteen groups were selected to receive grant money, and the affected neighborhoods can expect to see more trees, environmental programs and green jobs.
Hugh Hogan, North Star Fund’s Executive Director, said it is important to fund these green initiatives, especially in Western Queens. “Currently, Western Queens has among the lowest amounts of green space of any neighborhood in New York City—only 2 percent compared to a citywide av- erage of 14 percent,” he said.
After several meetings with community groups, Hogan gained an understanding of the residents’ vision for greening their neighborhoods. As an added bonus, there was a significant amount of money to turn the vision into a reality.
“Sometimes you have a great vision, but the resources aren’t always there. It’s exciting to have the funds for the vision and create a greener place to live,” Hogan said.
Among the grant recipients is the City Parks Foundation, which will work with community groups to plant up to 850 trees in the area. The Sunnyside Gardens Community Association was also selected to plant trees outside of Sunnyside Gardens park.
But Hogan said the Greening Western Queens initiative was more than planting trees; Teaching young residents about the importance of living a more environmentally friendly life is just as important. The Recycle-A-Bicycle program will create a center to teach kids about bike repair and promote the importance of bike riding. Solar One will partner with the city’s Education Department to create a Green Design Lab in eight public schools. These labs will teach children about sustainable energy and provide them with the op- portunity to make their own schools more energy efficient.
These programs and community activism are a great model for similar projects in other neighborhoods, Hogan said. He hopes the work Western Queens Power for the People and the North Star Fund inspires other communities to action.
“We’re trying to create a model for how communities can transform themselves,” Hogan said. He added that the work with other departments like the City Parks Foundation could be replicated throughout the city.