Silent gentrification in the heart of Queens
Roosevelt Avenue parts the heart of Queens, the huge borough of New York City. From Jackson Heights to Corona up to Flushing, the avenue is the spine of an interconnection of micro enclaves. Mexicans, Colombians, Ecuadorians, Indians, Filipinos, Bangladeshis, Koreans and others from around 100 communities share and, at the same time, divide South and North urban zones.
The Bloomberg’s legacy acceleration, de Blasio to curb
The Roosevelt axis with its double layered circulation (express F and 7,E,R,M trains / road) quickly connects to Manhattan beside distributing the local flows. Despite being traditionally host for prostitution, drug dealing and all activities aimed to exploit illegal immigrants and workers, the area shadowed by the F and 7 train tracks is today subject to a remodulation, being accelerated by Bloomberg’s administration legacy: rezoning of Western (Long Island City) and Eastern (Flushing) poles will make place for tall commercial, congress and residential spaces and will squeeze in a vise one of the densest commercial corridors in the city, pushed predominantly from the already “Manhattanized” Long Island City.
The development of a BID (Business Improvement District) for all the blocks in between was started, but later shortened by 10 blocks, cutting out those from 104st onwards. And it is still a target for critics by a number of business owners who fear they’ll be soon priced out of the neighborhood.
In the meantime, the interposed de Blasio’s call to curb luxury developments, preserve affordable housing and protect tenants, focuses on a large scale (all the 5 boroughs) and is a long term plan (ten years). It must deal and harmonize with an opposite process which has been already drafted and with a narrower focus.
A “counter white flight” and domino effect
The BID is still mostly on paper and difficult to decipher hence to anticipate its major consequences is not yet possible. However quietly the initial symptoms and changes are already noticeable to the keen observer.
Few of the old retail spaces along the Avenue have been cleared to make way for new grocery stores, Rite Aid, Duane Reade, fancy PCs and phones stores, branded shoes stores, modern style cafes and condos.
Also most disadvantaged immigrants are now being pushed out as leases expire: rent signs hanging in the street became the litmus test to determine how prices raised fast over a short time on the residential bid.
On the other hand, the area is being subject to an increasing influx of mid-class young families, singles, professionals relocating on their turn from those areas of Manhattan that more suffered from an intensive upscaling process. A sort of “counter white flight”, that induces a domino effect, from Manhattan (occasionally passing also through Astoria, Roosevelt Island or Slope) down to the bottom of Queens.
Breaking in the new communities
Newcomers find convenient to live in the area at just few express stops commute from Midtown and Downtown. They find all kind of facilities right in their neighbourhood, schools included, which help the break up of social enclaves. They also feel relatively safe, today that’s definitely not the Bronx nor Red Hook. Breaking in new communities seems more a deal than a hurdle.
The already intensely diversified social pattern started to quietly include a white (of European ancestry) presence where in the past it was more a rarity.
New York City , USA. September / October 2014
Photos and text: Riccardo Budini