The New York Times article “The Tilt Towards Queens” confirms what most Queens residents already know from going about our daily lives. Our borough is seeing an influx of new residents from Brooklyn and Manhattan and a colossal uptick in large scale residential development projects aimed to appeal to and attract more of those new residents. We also know our rents are soaring, affordable housing is getting more and more challenging to find, and the landscape is literally changing as towers rise to alter our views.
This Times article was widely well received by both Queens residents and business owners, which makes a lot of sense. After all, the good word finally getting around about our borough serves as a long overdue validation of hard work, civic pride, and the greatness and singularity of Queens. What concerns me, however, is that the article validates the tilt toward Queens by suggesting that the ultimate measure of success is that our borough is beginning to look like everywhere else.
One thing that most of us Queens residents also know is that, as one of the most diverse places on the planet, our borough does not look or feel like everywhere else.
We are a borough known for all manner of diversity: racial, religious, socioeconomic, linguistic, and even diversity of age (one of my first and most powerful memories of Astoria was riding the train with a family where three generations of people were conversing easily in Greek). We are a borough known for opportunity and creativity, energy and entrepreneurship. We are a borough that has historically been affordable, where so many people from so many places have been able to make a home. This is all a source of pride for us.
To measure success, as this article does, in terms of a hegemonic progress defined by massive real estate ventures and rising rents is to overlook – and perhaps even to jeopardize – the things about Queens that are truly special. We are proud of our neighborhoods, we want our businesses and business owners to do well, but we also want to hold close and hold up those things that make our borough unique, interesting, complex, multifarious, and beautiful.
So how do we strike a balance? How do we tilt toward success while not falling for an externally imposed definition of what success looks like in New York City?
I think we can start by supporting our existing local businesses, including those that don’t have large marketing budgets and social media presences. We can participate in projects like Jeff Orlick’s “Ambassadors” program that introduce us to the food and the chefs in our neighborhoods. We can commit to shop local on Small Business Saturday (November 30th) and Small Business Season (every Saturday throughout the holidays). We can volunteer for or donate to nonprofits that support our neighbors with vital services.
And we can champion the values of opportunity for all, affordability for all, a place for all. Because we are lucky enough to have this already in Queens, and we should hold onto it with all we have.