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Juniper Park Civic streets adorned with a little green

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For Elmhurst residents living directly south of the Long Island Expressway, the sounds and smells of traffic grinding against the pavement create a daily aggravation they have little choice but to accept.

Along the narrow residential streets that end at the highway’s concrete wall, however, neighbors have exchanged asphalt and tires for soil and flowers.

Two street triangles that only months ago were derided as eyesores have been transformed into green oases through renovations sponsored by Greenstreets, a citywide urban beautification program that reclaims paved traffic islands as green spaces.

“I thought it would be a wonderful idea because we don’t have enough green space as it is in New York,” said Tiffany Elliott, a neighborhood parent who spearheaded the community’s efforts to convert the islands.

The triangles, located only a block from one another along the Queens Midtown Expressway at 81st and 82nd Streets, were dedicated Friday in a ceremony that drew neighbors and local civic leaders who have been advocating for an increase in local greenery.

“We need to know that people like you are going to maintain (the plantings), so all of these Greenstreets remain beautiful and a testament to the community,” said Queens Borough Parks Commissioner Richard Murphy.

The parks department program has been responsible for transforming the city’s “asphalt valley of concrete” into a chain of “little forests,” Parks Forestry Deputy Director Bram Gunther said at the dedication, which was held in front of the larger of the two traffic islands at 82nd Street and 58th Avenue.

Living in the shadow of the LIE, residents stressed the need for plantings as a means of combating pollution from the highway and improving quality-of-life in the neighborhood.

“They may seem small, but they go a long way in making people feel better about the community,” said Robert Holden, the president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, which has been charged with tending the islands.

Neighbor Caroline Rossi said the triangles had been nothing more than weed-infested slabs of pavement before the Greenstreets renovation.

When residents would occasionally decide to pull the weeds, “then it would be cracks and pavement, and that was it,” Rossi said.

Now green with the new growth of urban-tolerant plants and flowers, the islands have begun to make the area more appealing for residents.

Perhaps no one was more pleased by the Greenstreets than Carl Berner, a 69-year resident of the neighborhood who will celebrate his 100th birthday in January.

The second triangle, at the intersection of 81st Street and Queens Midtown Expressway, was dedicated in his honor.

“It’s really wonderful, especially considering this highway that’s like the Berlin Wall,” Berner said, gesturing to the high wall running alongside an elevated segment of the LIE.

Berner, who emigrated from Germany in 1929, has established a reputation along his street as a fix-it man whom neighbors can rely on to solve any problems they encounter in their homes.

“You would see Mr. Berner, well into his 90s, on the roof,” said Holden, whose civic association decided to honor Berner for his longtime devotion to the community.

The Elmhurst traffic islands bring the city two steps closer to achieving Parks Commissioner Henry Stern’s goal of creating 2,001 Greenstreets by the end of the year, although he is still nearly 300 shy of the target.

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

Posted 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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