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In 1973, long-time Auburndale resident Mary Donahue took it upon herself to do something about the neglected litter-strewn, planted malls that divide the two lanes of 46th Avenue near her 194th Street home.
She and her neighbors planted shrubs, laid crumbled marble and cultivated flowers in the 9-foot-wide sections, turning them into green oases, and that same year the malls won one of five grand prizes in the citywide Molly Parnis Dress Up Your Neighborhood Contest.
The $1,000 check from that win bought many more horticultural delights to decorate the spaces, and the malls won the same award again in 1975, as well as a selection of other city and national awards over the next several decades.
Now 37 years later, Donahue is still dedicated to keeping the three 100-foot-long and one 75-foot-long gardens in tip-top shape, enlisting neighbors and volunteers to help. It remains a large-scale effort: Last year 19 local residents volunteered 230 hours of their time to do annual work on the malls.
But time, neglect by the city and salt from city Sanitation Department trucks have deteriorated the curbs that ring the malls, and now Donahue is leading a grassroots charge to have them replaced before the end of the week, when the city plans to finish resurfacing work on the pertinent stretch of 46th Avenue.
“Through the years we tried the best we could to keep those curbs in fairly good condition to prevent the soil and wood chips going into the street,” she said. “The curbs — I don’t think we’ve done them in 10 years because it’s too big of a job now.”
So Donahue, aided by her husband, George, and several neighbors and friends, including lifelong neighborhood resident Angela Dota, went to the Parks Department and the city Department of Transportation in hopes of convincing them to replace the curbs, some of which are crumbling and rutted while others are missing after years of being crushed by tires and worn down by rain and salt.
In 2007, the concerned citizens asked the Parks Department to install two-tier cobblestone curbs to replace the existing cement ones, but were told it was too expensive.
“We’re doing our part, but the city isn’t doing theirs,” Dota said.
They have taken other avenues since then to attempt to find a way to fix the curbs, including enlisting Frederick Kress, president of the Queens Coalition for Parks and Green Spaces, who sent a letter to the DOT requesting that the agency act to fix the missing curbs.
“I know that an unbroken curb would help prevent wood chips and soil from washing into the roadway,” he wrote. “Also, the current broken-up curbs do pose a liability for the city in terms of a trip hazard.”
The residents’ tireless work continues on the malls. Donahue, whom many area residents call “the mayor of 194th Street,” according to her husband, replaced many shrubs and other plants that were destroyed by salt during the past winter, and she continues to water the plants every single day.
She wrote letters to the DOT and Parks Department, City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) and representatives of Community Board 11, obtaining their backing in their efforts, but for now they are stuck out in the road, hoping for a restoration of the curbs to come through.
“I don’t care where it comes from at this point, but we need money for fixing the curbs before the road is resurfaced,” Donahue said. “We are asking for a simple curb — preferably a bumper curb — to replace the missing or damaged curbs surrounding the four planted malls.”
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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