There is never a shortage of civic deeds, but it is only periodically that we come across young community leaders of Queens who recognize problems in their community and feel obligated to unite neighbors and find solutions.
There are “armchair residents” who complain and take it for granted that other residents will improve their communities, and there are “defeatist residents” who feel problems can never be remedied. Then there are creative visionaries, which fall into a stand-alone category.
The latter is the case with Paul Gagliardotto, a 26-year-old Glendale resident who is forming the Forest Park Civic Association of Queens.
The Forest Park Civic Association of Queens would unify residents of all areas surrounding Forest Park, which include Glendale, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill, and Woodhaven. The new civic association’s mission statement is “To maintain the integrity of the social, cultural, historical, and infrastructural standards, as well as encourage community involvement, pride, and neighborhood cooperation.”
Over pastries and beverages in a Forest Hills Starbucks, the well-dressed Paul Gagliardotto expressed his passion for Queens and his civic goals. He has made the rounds in Queens: he is an Ozone Park native, a Glendale resident since age 13, and an alumna of Forest Hills High School. He began volunteering at age seven at a few churches, and participated in food and coat drives.
Gagliardotto’s long-term priority is creating a civic that unites everyone under a stronger voice. “There is a Glendale Civic Association, Woodhaven Residents Block Association, and Richmond Hill Historical Society, among others,” he said. “If an issue arises in one community, members from all the involved communities can join each other. I want to work with other civics, and not just be another one out there.”
Gagliardotto had his vision in early 2011, and owes his civic inspirations to his family and elected officials. He stated,
“My parents and sisters said to stop talking about trying to form a civic, but go for it,” he said. “I always looked up to the Vallone family, where Charles J. Vallone was a judge and grandson Peter Vallone, Jr. became a councilman. I read a great book by [former City Council Speaker] Peter F. Vallone, Sr. called Learning To Govern, which is about growing up in a political family and never abandoning their Astoria roots.”
In early 2012, redistricting became a contested issue. It was reported that four Queens legislators might be consolidated into two districts, and a Democrat would become subject to gerrymandering.
“If you take Forest Park and the five surrounding neighborhoods, you can quickly see how it borders three community boards, three of the new congressional districts, three or four assembly districts depending on how you view it, and five state senate districts,” Gagliardotto explained.
“I feel it is an outrage how Queens is divided by political representation, but this civic would do the opposite,” he said. “I feel I owe it to this area more than ever.”
Gagliardotto hopes to help save the Queens Community House Beacon Program at Russell Sage JHS 190, which might be forced to close due to budget cuts. “I played music, sports, and arts and crafts there after school, and I couldn’t imagine the program not being around for today’s kids,” he said.
Queens is often tossed candy, considering the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation rate in Manhattan and Brooklyn, Gagliardotto said.
“We have so much history, and should have more, if not just as many landmarks as Brooklyn and Manhattan,” he said. “I remember visiting Eddie’s Sweet Shop and the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium when I was younger, and it makes me wonder how the Commission would not landmark those historic sites.”
Gagliardotto denounces overdevelopment. “Developers want to build a condo everywhere, but they don’t see what people value from spaces such as the Tennis Stadium,” he said.
He referenced the demolition of homes and green spaces in the Cord Meyer section of Forest Hills for McMansions. He also mentioned the demolition of a 1906 Neo-Renaissance rowhouse at 108-21 72nd Avenue to build a sliver commercial building, which blocked all views on one façade of the Chatham apartment building.
Green initiatives are another interest. “If you walk down a block and it’s all cement, you don’t have that nice feeling,” Gagliardotto said.
He suggested devoting areas of Forest Park to teaching children how to grow flowers and vegetables, and also planting trees at large. He supports a bike path along the abandoned LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch, as long as parking facilities for the cars at the Forest View Crescent co-op are not sacrificed.
He envisions a general membership meeting paired by an executive board meeting, and hopes the civic will meet bi-monthly, in addition to any special weekend activity. He will promote his civic through his website and Facebook. He also visualizes a younger membership, spanning college age through the late 20s.
“We are the younger people who will inherit these neighborhoods, so we need to take care of these neighborhoods now before it is too late,” he said.
“This is a very community-based neighborhood, and this civic will be a great addition for the whole community,” said student opera singer Nora Mooney, a two-year resident of Forest Hills.
“I am responsible, caring, and patient,” added Gagliardotto. “My personality as an individual is carried into my personality as a community leader.”
With Gagliardotto’s vision, Queens is improvement-bound.
The civic’s introductory meeting will be on May 2 at 7 p.m. in the Atlas Park Community Room at 80-00 Cooper Avenue in Glendale. Residents can get to know each other and exchange ideas, as well as meet congressional candidates.