Queensbridge, Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside, Jackson Heights, Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, and a few micro-neighborhoods (Blissville? Newtown?) are lousy with light pollution, be it from landing planes, peaker-plant towers, the ambient light from the Manhattan skyline, or exploding Con Ed equipment. The night sky is often a cool, light pink. It puts a bit of a soft lid on one's dreams in the world's greatest borough, signaling there's possibly not much beyond the shores of the East River, or the treacherous waters of the Hell Gate.
"We want to encourage kids to reach for the stars, and for that, it would help to be able to let people see them," says Astoria-based State Senator Michael Gianaris.
Gianaris is talking about the stars (he says he talks about stars a lot, he's a bit of a science geek) because the senator has just secured $1 million in state funding for the first planetarium in Queens, to be built inside a brand-new building for the Variety Boys and Girls Club, down the street from NYCHA's Astoria Houses, where most of the kids who go there live.
"It's important to have something like this that's accessible to the kids who live in the working class neighborhoods here," said Gianaris, who will be announcing the planetarium at a press conference this afternoon, along with officials from NASA.
The new building for the longstanding Boys and Girls Club will be carbon neutral, fully electrified, and feature several classrooms and resources devoted to exploring climate change and the city's energy future.
"Astoria has clearly been impacted by environmental racism," said Costa Constantinides, the area's former city councilmember and the author of the City's stringent climate law, which requires the City to take action to reach an 80 percent citywide reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Constantinides is now the head of the Variety Boys and Girls Club.
"The power plant was put there for a reason by Robert Moses," Constantinides said, pointing out the Ravenswood Generating Station's proximity to public housing. "Obviously those most impacted are who we want to be playing a huge role in the clean energy future."
Gianaris hopes the planetarium will let these students learn about their changing world, as well as world’s beyond it.
"We can turn the world's borough into the universe's borough,” he said.
The planetarium will let two classes of students in at a time, and will serve 10,000 kids a year. It's scheduled to open in 2026.
But Constantinides tells Hell Gate that the most important decision about the planetarium has yet to be made: Who will voice its narration?
Hell Gate has some western Queens-centric suggestions:
A 48-year-old man who earlier this week jumped into the East River from atop the fence of the “the boat,” the City’s floating jail barge, has died. Gregory Acevedo is the 15th person to die while incarcerated by the City this year.