Back in 2009, I worked for a community newspaper in Queens. One of the many beats I covered as a youngish, perpetually broke reporter was the western edge of the borough—specifically, Long Island City. While by then it was well on its way to becoming a hipster’s paradise, the neighborhood was still mainly populated by warehouses, cab stands, artists and longtime residents mixed in with trendy restaurants and a fledgling condo collective.
If you were to return to Long Island City (LIC) today for the first time since 2008, it would appear as though 20 years had gone by instead of 10. Multiple luxury high rises have sprouted, filling the skyline and choking the streets with a never-ending flow of commuters. The artists have been priced out; the warehouses relegated to smaller and smaller patches of the neighborhood; those longtime residents either clinging to their homes or dead. Things certainly have changed.
And that change has accelerated thanks to the announcement that Amazon had chosen Long Island City as the site of one of its new headquarters. Lured in by LIC’s many transit options, proximity to Manhattan, the aforementioned condos and, of course, a $1.7 billion sweetheart deal with the City of New York, the online retail giant and moneymaking empire’s arrival is set to finish the gentrification effort started decades ago by those who gazed over the neighborhood’s warehouse landscape and saw nothing but dollar signs.
Some elements of “old” Long Island City remain—chief among those vestiges of the past are LaGuardia Community College and Queensbridge Houses. LaGuardia, home to the most diverse student body in the country—and probably the world—could potentially deliver the workforce Amazon craves. Meanwhile, Queensbridge, the largest public housing project in North America, could do the same, if Amazon hires locally—and that is a big “if.”
By selecting LIC, Amazon chose to develop an area that didn’t need any help whatsoever. Amazon will also seriously compromise the neighborhood’s infrastructure, push its already threadbare transit system to the breaking point and gobble up the few parking areas that remain for the people who work there. Amazon could have chosen Suffolk County or scores of other places in the country that are desperate for something to breath new life into its economy.
Progress is necessary—but progress with a purpose, not progress for the sake of a tax incentive.
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