Many of the tree-lined streets in Kew Gardens Hills will be getting an upgrade of sorts throughout the remainder of July. The annoyances of partial sidewalk closures, loss of parking, and blocked driveways will pave the way to brighter, fuller, and more vibrant city blocks with added greenery. The expansion of the green garden program will include installations along various roads in our area. Affected roadways include Parsons Boulevard between Jewel Avenue and 72nd Avenue; 71st Avenue between Park Avenue and Kissena Boulevard, and between 150th Street and Vleigh Place; and 72nd Avenue between 150th Street and Vleigh Place.

Infiltration basins will be installed to catch runoff water. When it rains, Green Infrastructure collects and manages the rainwater, or “stormwater,” that falls on our city’s streets and sidewalks. Green Infrastructure prevents stormwater from entering the City’s sewer system, which helps to improve the health of local waterways. Specially designed curbside rain gardens will absorb millions of gallons of stormwater each time it rains, beautifying neighborhoods, improving the health of our waterways, and making the city more resilient in the face of global warming.

The initiative began in 2010, under the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with a citywide Green Infrastructure Program to manage stormwater runoff that would otherwise contribute to sewer overflows. Investing in Green Infrastructure is a cost-effective way to improve the quality of New York City’s waterways while bringing multiple benefits to local communities, including improved air quality, increased shade, and cooler temperatures during the summer. Green Infrastructure also enhances the aesthetics of New York City’s neighborhoods and provides economic opportunities for green jobs. Over the next decade, DEP will continue to implement innovative, cost-effective Green Infrastructure to manage one inch of stormwater runoff from ten percent of impervious surfaces in combined sewer areas of the City.

Karen S., a 71st Avenue resident, could not be more pleased. “I cannot wait to pull my lawn chair beside the greenery and experience its beauty,” related Karen. “My daughter often comes to visit and complains of the need for more nature to embellish our block. These gardens are the answer to my prayers.”

So where are these basins chosen to go? Areas where the land is prone to inland flood are targeted, with the DEP working to identify areas vulnerable to increased precipitation. And as of March 2020, DEP now has enforcement authority to act against certain damages inflicted against sidewalk Green Infrastructure, such as dumping of prohibited substances. These rule amendments allow these gardens to be protected in the same way that the City’s sewer system is protected.

Not everybody is as peachy as Karen with the program. Batsheva Boehm, her husband, and four children are also residents of 71st Avenue, just a few short blocks from where the current construction is set to launch. Batsheva explained the methodology of the DEP and how area residents were contacted. “The neighbors were forced to educate themselves on green gardens after only half the block received suspicious garbled robocalls alerting residents of the plan.” Other neighbors voiced concern for the overall necessity of the project. “Our blocks do not have much rain runoff,” said one elderly gentleman, Dan C., who received a distasteful robocall. “Nobody asked for these new projects; let the Council stop wasting money,” noted another senior resident, Darcy L., who had not been contacted about the program.

One area resident, who filed suit against the City following a fall in a different region, shared her tale. “Many of these rain gardens have small fences, with deep inlets. I was getting out of my car after my husband parked alongside a shopping strip in Brooklyn. I had not noticed the indentation, and tripped when exiting the vehicle. I then grabbed hold of the fence only to get further injured and completely lost my balance. I was in an air cast from my ankle to my knee. Can you imagine?!”

Although these gardens mitigate environmental impacts, alternatives from composite material or a sidewalk with pores to absorb the water might be more beneficial as an alternative to lessen hazards and provide more play space for children.

Batsheva further explained that her youngest two children, ages eight and 12, use the current small patches of grass to play. “Especially nowadays with no camp or school in session, my children are out from dawn until dusk and take advantage of all available space for games like Frisbee and baseball.”

The standard rain garden continues to be the most widely implemented type of Green Infrastructure in practice. The latest design improvements include new planting plans, a concrete walking strip, and sediment capture mechanisms to trap debris and reduce erosion. Rain gardens with “Type D” inlets utilize a catch basin grate in the roadway instead of a curb cut inlet to redirect stormwater runoff into the practice. This reduces debris that flows onto the soil bed and minimizes soil erosion from high intensity storms. Infiltration Basins are designed to match the existing sidewalk – concrete or grass strip. Although they do not provide the same greening co-benefits as rain gardens, they are the preferred alternative in high-density residential, industrial, or commercial areas where sidewalk space is limited, and plants may not thrive. Permeable pavement installations in the roadway are ideal for neighborhoods with limited opportunity for Green Infrastructure on sidewalks due to existing trees, driveways, and other constraints.

Darcy stated that calls to the Community Board and voicemails left at the local Council Member’s office to discuss the various options bore no fruit. “It seems our voices are muted, and the people have no say whatsoever,” she expressed. “Programs like these do not vanish; they pop up throughout the neighborhood repeatedly. Hopefully, the next block will have more success getting the system most suitable for their area,” said Dan.

By Shabsie Saphirstein