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ARROW fights for greenery in W. Queens

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On a stretch of land wedged between an industrial fence and 45th Road in Long Island City, piles of garbage and weeds several feet tall mask the labor of love that had transformed the plot only two months ago.

Members of ARROW — Astoria Residents Reclaiming Our World, a community environmental group — had organized neighbors and teenage volunteers from the local YMCA in July to clean up an area that had long been an eyesore in the Hunter’s Point community.

But two months later, few signs of their work remain.

“We’re trying to eventually clean up that whole stretch and do some plantings and discourage people from dumping garbage there,” said Sandra Robishaw of Sunnyside, the president of ARROW.

Robishaw, a painter, had worked for 10 years in a studio only a block away from the site, and her daily commute brought her past the litter-strewn walkway, where tires sat alongside bags filled with trash and countless pieces of scattered litter in the mixed residential and commercial neighborhood.

“There are a lot of sites in Long Island City that are No Man’s Land,” Robishaw said, referring to easements where the line dividing public and private property is blurry.

What got her interested in the 45th Road easement was its jagged bluestone sidewalk, a remnant of 19th century Long Island City design which has since been largely replaced by paved walkways and streets.

Over two weekends in July, Robishaw and a group of volunteers pulled out weeds and removed bags of garbage from the land between 45th Road and the back fence of the Empire City Iron facility. With financial assistance from a Mollie Parnis Dress Up Your Neighborhood Award, the group set mulch along the edge of the fence and planted six Hosta plants along its length.

Although Robishaw understood that the weeds would return with a vengeance, the garbage that now covers the thin stretch of land is an obstacle she did not expect to face so soon after the massive cleanup.

“It’s discouraging to go back there and see that garbage has been dumped again,” she said.

Originally founded in 1991 to encourage recycling, ARROW started to broaden its mission once the city began a curbside recycling program of its own. The acronym originally stood for Astoria Residents Recycling Our Waste; the group adapted its name to describe its new mission of uncovering green spaces by changing the end to “Reclaiming Our World.”

“Even though it sounds grandiose, this is what we do — find pieces and reclaim them from being hell holes,” Robishaw said.

ARROW already has a good track record. The group reclaimed an Astoria lot that opened last year as Arrow Park, giving the neighborhood a community garden and activity center on a plot of land where industrial waste had previously been piled to the height of the trees.

The park, sitting on less than an acre of land between two buildings along 35th Street, consists of a community gardening area with individual plots assigned to neighbors, a larger general planting space and a wide area with paving stones where children can play. A garage on the site has been transformed into a community center with accordion walls inside forming three separate spaces and large windows bathing the rooms with light.

Like the Hunters Point site, Arrow Park has not followed the exact path its creators envisioned for it, but no one is complaining. So many neighborhood children have flocked to the park that what was originally imagined as a green space is being rethought as more of a recreational area.

“Over the last year it’s sort of having its own life,” Robishaw said. “Perhaps a serene community garden with a lot of planting is not what the community will need.”

Meanwhile in Hunters Point, Robishaw realized more is needed than simply cleaning up garbage.

“We can clean it up, but we need to figure out a way to make people look at it in a different way,” she said. “I believe that eventually with getting people aware right there in that neighborhood and taking care of it regularly, that people will start to respect it.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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