Queens and gentrification

Lonely Planet is pushing Queens as their number 1 recommended tourist destination for 2015. I find this so comical given that I lived there for four years, my cousin lived there, hated it, and complained about how dumb people were there (he thinks everyone else is the problem, not him, though, so not much to take seriously there), and it hasn’t reached anywhere near the levels of gentrification that Brooklyn has seen due to the hipster invasion. The “cool” neighborhoods in which to live in Queens are Astoria and Long Island City; anywhere else is considered foreign to the unknowing white person moving here for the first time who wants something that is affordable but still “in.” When I tell people I lived in Queens and they ask me the neighborhood, I respond “Elmhurst,” knowing that 98% of them won’t have any idea what I am talking about. If they know what I am talking about, chances are that they are either Asian or Latino, or they have Asian or Latino relatives/friends who lived there or still live there.

Well, guess what: that’s the real Queens, not the Queens made prissy by hipsters who claim to not want to be yuppies and the yuppies who want somewhere clean and free of immigrants to live. In Elmhurst, I was happy with massive apartment space, a full sized, granite kitchen with all new appliances, endless ethnic eating options for cheap, affordable groceries, a safe area at all hours of day and night, and incredibly affordable rent. Yes, I had a 45-50-minute commute door-to-door to work, but in the end, the trade-off was worth it to me. I explored a neighborhood that most others don’t even think about or know when they think of New York. And I’m more knowledgeable about the “real foodie” places in Queens than the average person who claims to know this city’s food.

I sat at lunch today with my friend and two of his friends who brought up the Lonely Planet Queens mention. One of the girls said, “I like to walk through the neighborhoods of Brooklyn, but I wouldn’t really do that in Queens. There, I have to have a destination, like a restaurant I want to go to.” I can understand why people would say that, but at the same time, if I told her of an area of Brooklyn she probably has no clue about, like Bensonhurst or Bay Parkway, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t want to wander the streets there, admiring gorgeous brownstones… because while there are brownstones there, they aren’t necessarily the picturesque ones she’s probably imagining from chic areas like Park Slope or Cobble Hill. Gentrification is the reason places like Brooklyn are becoming socially acceptable to live in and be a tourist in. Certain pockets of Queens are being gentrified, but I think that if the immigrant population gets pushed out too much there, what I love about Queens in terms of variety, culture, and cuisine will be gone. I never wanted it to become hip. I want business to get better though and people to more widely recognize it as an extremely important part of food and culture in New York, though, so maybe I can’t have both.

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