SWA/Balsley Designs Two-Acre Network of Parks and Public Spaces for Innovation QNS: a “15-Minute City” in Astoria, Queens

SWA/Balsley Designs Two-Acre Network of Parks and Public Spaces for Innovation QNS: a “15-Minute City” in Astoria, QueensAs part of the recently approved master plan, public open spaces will provide Astoria residents with a range of community amenities, forming an inclusive public realm network of diverse open space experiences

Image Courtesy ODA

NEW YORK (February 23, 2023) – Innovation QNS, a community-driven plan for a walkable, 24/7, mixed-use creative district in the heart of Astoria, Queens, is a transformative project to breathe new life into a low density corner of the neighborhood. As part of the master plan, recently approved by the New York City Council through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP),  SWA/Balsley, in collaboration with ODA, has designed two acres of public parks and open spaces to bring a range of community amenities and high-quality public spaces for residents, local businesses and visitors in one of the most park-poor neighborhoods in New York.

Spanning five city blocks, the project represents a rare opportunity to deliver housing, jobs, parks, and other public amenities at a district-wide scale. The vision for Innovation QNS is to create an inclusive, neighborhood-focused, mixed-use district that builds upon Astoria’s diversity and rich cultural fabric. The project will include two acres of open space, vital community facilities, and 3,200 units of housing, more than 45% of which will be affordable.

SWA/Balsley collaborated closely with ODA, Kaufman Astoria Studios, Silverstein Properties, and BedRock Real Estate Partners to develop the designs for the project’s open spaces. The six publicly accessible open spaces will be evenly distributed throughout the district to provide a range of community amenities, including gathering spaces, active and passive recreation spaces, and through-block pedestrian connections. The design team’s goal was to enhance the existing neighborhood’s open space network by adding a wider range of amenities and choices to the community’s inventory of parks.

“This project represents a significant step in Mayor Adams’ ‘City of Yes’ plan to develop neighborhoods that are both more affordable and sustainable,” said Tom Balsley, the project’s principal-in-charge. “Our design approach is informed by the need for our rapidly growing boroughs to offer equitable green open space for all residents. We’re also taking care to provide variety in the types of individual spaces, so that the result will be a system with something for everyone.”

The proposed open spaces include the following components:

  • Digital Square, a community gathering space activated by an adjacent food hall and digital art gallery operated by the Museum of the Moving Image.
  • Adventure Playscape and Multi-Use Field, a large open space dedicated to active recreation that will fulfill a community need by providing space for sports, fitness, recreation, and play.
  • Steinway Passage, which will provide direct connection between Steinway and 38th Street while being a lively and compelling public space in its own right. The passage will establish circulation corridors along retail and lobby frontages, and offer central garden “islands” with public seating, allowing for porous cross-circulation and intimate gathering.
  • Astoria Commons, the largest of the open spaces, which will serve a broad range of users, attracting both impromptu day-to-day activity and an array of large-scale public event programming, including concerts, markets, festivals, and fitness classes. It will also feature a sizeable dog run with play mounds and seating for pet owners.
  • Market Plaza, an international marketplace with food and beverage services, vendors, and a state-of-the-art cinema, celebrating the cultural diversity of Astoria. The covered plaza will accommodate year-round attractions and programming such as festivals and fairs, games and play, art installations, winter activities, and seasonal markets.
  • Innovation Square, a distinctive and memorable gathering space that will serve as the front porch to adjoining residential lobbies and retail space. The central plaza will serve as an “urban stage,” with interactive art as well as spectator seating directed toward plaza activity. Across 42nd Street, located on the cinema façade, a large digital screen will project film screenings, public art, and other community-based programming.

SWA/Balsley creates inspiring, provocative, resilient public spaces that enhance communities and enrich people’s lives.  The places we create reflect our deep commitment to design excellence, and our belief that landscape architecture plays an instrumental role in forging a culture that connects people with places…and with each other.  Our landscape architects, planners and urban designers hail from two internationally renowned firms—SWA Group and Thomas Balsley Associates, which joined together in 2016 to practice from New York City.  SWA/Balsley’s projects range from large-scale master plans to small urban spaces; from urban waterfronts and major parks to institutional, residential, and corporate landscapes.  Learn more at https://www.swabalsley.com/