When Elizabeth McQueen passed in February of this year, not only did we lose a long-serving board member and supporter of Riis Settlement, but we also lost a tireless advocate whose zeal and determination helped make Queensbridge a safer and more dignified place for all of its residents. Nowhere are the fruits of her efforts more evident than in the local Queensbridge Park, a space that she loved dearly and fought hard to salvage after it fell into neglect some decades ago.
On a recent Friday in July, friends and family, local community leaders, representatives of Riis Settlement, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, and New York City Parks Department Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver gathered in the park to remember Mrs. McQueen and to honor her work by declaring the promenade, the Elizabeth McQueen Esplanade. The location for the honor could not have been more apt given Mrs. McQueen’s deep involvement in helping to secure funding to restore the crumbling seawall and reopen access to the waterfront, which had been fenced off for many years. The $7 million project, which was completed in 2014, could not have materialized had it not been for Mrs. McQueens’ relentless lobbying of local elected officials. Council Member Van Bramer warmly remembered her drive, noting that, ultimately, the project was an issue of social justice for Mrs. McQueen who firmly believed that the children of Queensbridge were entitled to the same quality of green space as the children of any other neighborhood in New York City.
Longtime resident Fatema Jannat, who has lived in Queensbridge for the past 15 years, recently recalled the derelict nature of the park. “The park was not much of a park, it was very industrial, a lot of construction. It was rundown along the riverside and the riverfront was cordoned off. There were no fields, no volleyball nets, no soccer pitch, and no bike lanes. The playground had been turned into a parking lot. It was not family-friendly at all and was neither well lit nor safe to be in.”
As founder of the Friends of Queensbridge Park and park steward, Mrs. McQueen played a key role in helping restore the park to its former glory. Today, people flock to the park to picnic, play various sports, attend a SummerStage event, fish, or simply enjoy some quiet respite. Later this year, renovations will begin on the old park house, which was another goal that she fought hard for. While Mrs. McQueen’s passing is a loss to us all, it is also a reminder of what we can achieve if we put our minds to it. Every community needs an Elizabeth McQueen; somebody willing to selflessly dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that the needs of the community are being met. Mrs. McQueen did just that and long will she be remembered for her contributions to the Queensbridge community, particularly to the Queensbridge Park.