Meet a New Yorker for Parks

Ms. McQueen

Elizabeth McQueen passed away in February, 2016, at the age of 83. She made an invaluable and long-lasting contribution to her park and her community. We feel honored that we had the chance to work with and interview Ms. McQueen, who exemplified the spirit and commitment of parks stewardship.   

January 16, 2013

At the Queensbridge Houses, everyone knows Ms. McQueen.

“It’s true,” she said with a laugh. “How could they not? I’ve been here so long.”

Since 1950, in fact. And in the past 15 years, she's become quite a fixture in Queensbridge Park.

“It was sort of a disaster before then,” she said. “The surrounding community, the children – they couldn’t use it.”

Around 2000, she began to organize volunteer cleanups in the park, which drew the attention of the Queensbridge Parks Department administrator. The Department asked whether she’d be interested in starting a volunteer group to help maintain the space. She agreed, and the Friends of Queensbridge Park was born.

“My main interest from the beginning was the children,” she said. “So the first thing we did was try to raise money for youth events."

Those efforts were wildly successful. She secured funding from several local elected officials, primarily Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan. Today, McQueen’s group puts on three puppet shows every summer, along with a youth festival. McQueen says more than 200 children regularly attend her events.

“And yes, they all know me,” she said, laughing again.

McQueen isn’t just a fixture in Queensbridge, though.

“Everyone in this area who’s involved with parks knows her,” said Katie Ellman, the President of Greenshores NYC, a waterfront park advocacy group in Long Island City and Astoria. “Her influence is multigenerational.”

As for her formal title?

“Everyone just calls her Ms. McQueen – there’s just so much respect for her,” Ellman said.

Friends of Queensbridge is also active with park cleanups and plantings, and helps maintain order in the park.

“It’s safe in the park now, not like before,” McQueen said. “The difference is people know now that there’s always someone taking stock of what they’re doing, there are always eyes.”

Today, when McQueen surveys the park on a summer afternoon, she sees hordes of barbecuers and children playing and laughing, in a safe, friendly environment.

"I think that has affected the entire community – especially the children.”

For McQueen, it’s obvious which demographic she holds most dear. But she has clearly touched others as well.

“She’s truly inspirational, a mentor and role model to me personally,” Ellman said.

 “Whenever things don’t go my way or I have a bad day at work, I think of Ms. McQueen. If she can do it, then I can too. It always helps.”