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Queens College, local pols celebrate the late Barry Commoner’s legacy with street conaming

Oct. 9, 2023 By Rachel Butler

The west corner of Kissena Boulevard and 65th Avenue near Queens College has been renamed “Barry Commoner Way” in honor of the late Barry Commoner, who made significant contributions to environmental and energy problems over the course of his career. 

Commoner was a lecturer at Queens College from 1981 until 2012, when he moved the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems to the College from Washington University in St. Louis. 

Queens College President Frank H. Wu, City Council Member James Gennaro, Barry Commoner Center for Health and the Environment Director Steven Markowitz and Commoner’s widow Lisa Feiner were all in attendance at the Oct. 5 event. 

“Barry worked here in Queens College from 1981 to 2012 as head of the center doing all kinds of environmental work,” Markowitz said. “We all have a lot to learn from Barry and the laws of ecology that he elaborated, including ‘everything is connected to everything else,’ which is the first law. If we think about it and how true that was for the pandemic and how connected everything was, Barry was really ahead of his time.”

Gennaro gave a personal and heartfelt speech about Commoner’s character during the event. 

“I was in awe of meeting him. I remember him being on the cover of TIME Magazine when I was a boy and his presidential run. The world and the people of the United States owe so much to Barry Commoner,” Gennaro said. “To me, he was my mentor and friend. I owe so much to him and I dedicate my work on behalf of our environment to Barry Commoner’s blessed memory.”

Commoner founded the the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems and was the head of this center for 20 years. The center was subsequently renamed the Barry Commoner Center for Health and the Environment

Markowitz is now the director of the center and he was joined by a number of his colleagues on the day. 

“I was thinking in my remarks today what would Barry want me to talk about and fortunately Council Member Gennaro covered some of the personal things, so I’m going to talk about some of Barry’s ideas because that’s what Barry cared about —brilliant people, brilliant social movements, brilliant systems of belief succeed in expressing complex ideas in short statements. It’s not easy to capture an underlying truth about the world, an important moment or a widely shared concept in just a few easy understood words but Barry was able to achieve that,” Markowitz said.

Wu made it clear that the college was proud to have had Commoner undertake such important work on their campus. 

“We often refer to Queens as the ‘World’s Borough,’ so it’s appropriate that Barry Commoner will be recognized in perpetuity in this corner of the planet,” Wu said. “Barry Commoner taught at Queens College and brought his famed research center here to our campus. We’re happy to claim him as one of our own.”

The ceremony concluded with the revealing of the new sign on the corner which reads ‘The Barry Commoner Way.’

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