Like the rest of this city, the Borough of Queens entered the year 2003 in the grips of an awesome fiscal crisis. After years of relative prosperity and growth, were entering a second year of gloom and doom marked by service cuts and layoffs in both the public and private sector. Although more tough times may lie ahead, we believe that the city has turned the corner. There is sound reason for optimism in 2004:
Education. The creation of the Department of Education is a positive first step toward educational reform. The buck now stops on the mayors desk. His focus on school safety and the relocation of disruptive students to smaller specialized schools is good news for parents and teachers. We look forward to the introduction of parent advocates in each school. This should give parents the access to the administration that they now feel is missing. Finally, a recent court decision should force the state to give the city a fair share of education dollars.
Crime. Most criminal justice experts believed it would be difficult, if not impossible, to sustain the reduction in crime that was the hallmark of the Giuliani administration. And yet, under Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the crime numbers continue to fall. The numbers for serious crimes are down in every precinct of Queens in nearly every category. The recently announced decision to expand the Gun Courts to every borough should help in further reducing gun violence. In these courts, anyone convicted of possessing a loaded gun faces the near certainty of prison time.
Transportation. The creation of the AirTrain is an important first step in modernizing transportation in Queens. At present the AirTrain only takes passengers from Jamaica and Howard Beach to the terminals at Kennedy Airport. But now everyone appears to agree that the AirTrain must be completed all the way to Midtown Manhattan. Until that happens the AirTrain will remain underutilized. More immediately, the city must address the problem of the privately owned bus lines that serve Queens. These bus lines provide a valuable service. If the city is not willing to renew their contract, it must make a commitment to take over the existing routes.
Zoning. There is arguably no better place in the city to raise a family than Queens. In the early 60s the city changed the zoning to make it easier for families to relocate to Queens. But now the borough is overwhelmed by this population growth. This may be the most critical issue in Queens for decades yet to come.
The challenge will be balancing the need for commercial and residential (WHAT???) with the need to preserve the quality of life that makes Queens so great in the first place. City Councilman Tony Avella has added an important element to the debate by hiring a consultant to complete a zoning study of the 19th Council District.
The study calls for the introduction of contextual zoning, that will give the city a means of protecting the quality of life in residential neighborhoods. The study addresses the problem of McMansions, multi-family dwellings that are built almost overnight and replace larger, single-family homes. What the study found in northeast Queens will be valuable in every part of this borough.
Olympics. And finally we are cheered by the thought that the Olympic Village will be located in western Queens if the city succeeds in winning the right to host the 2012 Olympics.
The list goes on. At the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna, we think the future looks bright in every corner of Queens. This is an exciting time to be the hometown paper of Queens.
We wish all of our readers a happy and healthy New Year.
©2004 Community News Group
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