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    Go to: Long Island City Tour, Changing Long Island City, Art in Long Island City, Greek Diner, References, Long Island City Media

    Long Island City Tour (back to top)

    360 Tour
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    Hipsters, Projects and Condos: the Changing Long Island City (back to top)

    Long  Island City is a weird place.  It is a neighborhood made distinct by markedly stark contradictions. This was the neighborhood that ten years ago was synonymous with crime and urban decay. The infamous Queens Bridge Project was its greatest claim to fame.  Of course not to mention, the thousands of abandoned warehouses, dilapidated buildings and failed businesses. A few years ago, the only things that seemed to be thriving were your local strip club. Large red, neon triple x’s can still be seen from blocks away. The gangs occupied the streets and held the housing projects hostage. News of murder and rape were too common.

    That was the old Long Island City. Crime has been curbed and so has been urban decay. The decrease in crime meant residents stuck around more often. Businesses started to get back on their feet. The old run-down warehouses became cheap space for starving artists. And then it happened.

    I remember seeing the first one being built; its green façade and white pillars shining in the mid afternoon sunlight. I have spent nearly six years waiting for trains on the high platforms of the Queens Boro Plaza Station. It was a stop on my way to and from school. Standing on the platform I watched the steel skeleton go up. Then slowly, the green glass and the white pillars were attached to each other. This first one was not finished, when another set of skeletal structures sprouted a few blocks away.

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    And so the luxury condos, seemingly sprouted overnight. The condos brought along with them a whole set of cultural connotations foreign to the neighborhood.

    Today there are more condos. And the economy of Long Island City has been improving.  Now the neighborhood is host to, “sushi bars, a teahouse, an upscale grocery store, a cocktail lounge where the word “mixologist” could reasonably be uttered and multiple options for doggy day care”[1]. The rich are stammering to move into this long-kept secret of Queens. Real Estate agents are jittery with excitement because Long Island City is only one stop from Manhattan.

    The inside of a condominium lobby. A raised ceiling, modern art, and a floor to ceiling waterfall present an image of opulence and wealth to potential residents.

    Where do the older residents fit in all this? They are the ones who braved the tough early and late 90’s, watched their neighborhood transform.  Some like, Joe, a resident of 42 years, feel content about the future. He doesn’t feel threatened by the changing neighborhood.

    While LIC has a long way to go before the older residents are pushed out, the neighborhood is well on its way to being the next great example of urban gentrification.

    A soul food restaurant prepares its marquee before opening. New businesses are becoming a common sight in Long Island City.

    The Artist’s Touch: A Different Take on Long Island City Gentrification (back to top)
    Glance out of the 7 train as you leave the underground and approach 45th Road- Court House Square. You should have no trouble noticing a factory structure encased in a bright layer of graffiti art. Exit the station and approach the location on the street level and you will find graffiti covers not only the walls of the 5 story structure, but every surface from asphalt to lamp posts to staircases and even the dumpsters and sidewalk around the building. Enter the location’s courtyard, open to the public, and you will likely find on any afternoon artists at work on new projects. Enter the factory and you will find galleries with modern art. In fact, if you walk two blocks in any direction you will find another art gallery. The PS1 Contemporary Art Center happens to be just down the block. Thirty years ago, Long Island City was known for its industrial parks and warehouses. Today, locations such as the 5 Pointz Aerosol Art Center (also known as the Institute of Higher Burnin’), PS1, the Socrates Sculpture Park, and the Noguchi Museum have transformed portions of the expansive neighborhood into a booming art community and a first-rate residential area. The transition is a by the textbook example of gentrification brought on by the power of starving artists.

    5 Pointz: Institute of Higher Burnin'

    Sonya Lopez is an art historian who works with New York City artists to assess their work and introduce it to investors. “Artists are usually willing to live where most people will not. Long Island City was only 10 minutes away from Manhattan, but it was being ignored by developers because of abandoned industrial lots, poverty, and pollution that made the neighborhood difficult to sell to investors. Artists didn’t have this problem. They needed an to get as close to Manhattan as possible, where their patrons were located,” explains Sonya. “Once they become a part of a community, they help develop it and establish their presence, attracting other artists. As the quality of the neighborhood improves, businesses and realtors come in.”

    PS1 Center for Contemporary Art

    PS1 Center for Contemporary Art

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    In Long Island City, the PS1 Art Center was among the first institutions to attract the art community. Established by Alanna Heiss in 1971, it transformed a closed school into a space for art studios and galleries. By providing inexpensive space for artists and their work, PS1 caused an influx of artists in Long Island City. As more artists began to occupy the neighborhoods buildings, the appearance of the community began to change as store fronts became art galleries. The first cataclysmal shift for the community was the opening of the Socrates Sculpture Park, which was established by sculptor Mark di Suvero on an abandoned landfill. The new park showcased the works of modern sculptors and improved the appearance of the community, encouraging other projects to clean up abandoned lots and buildings, creating more public space. The changing image of Long Island City attracted new residents to the community, which in turn attracted businesses. Today, Long Island City is home to a thriving art community.

    Cafes and art galleries opened up throughout Long Island City to cater to its bohemian art community

    “But all is not well.” Explains Sonya. “Artists often attract visitors and developers to an area, slowly improving its condition. Initially, the result is a booming art community. However, as the neighborhood becomes increasingly trendy, building values increase and rent becomes more expensive. The art community that rebuilt the community is driven out by the resulting unaffordable housing.” The process has already occurred in SOHO and is currently underway in Williamsburg. In Long Island City, new condominiums are rising up each year, offering housing for those who can afford it. The owner of the Five Pointz building has expressed his wishes to turn the international graffiti art hub into a hotel. Long Island City is slowly abandoning its art community, but the cafes, galleries, museums, and parks that they leave behind will remain a testament to the presence of those starving artists that helped create the Long Island City of today.

    Socrates Sculpture Park is home to a an exhibit modern art sculptures. During the summer months, films, usually foreign works or documentaries, are screened for the public at the park. Theme appropriate food is sold at these events. For Joon-ho Bong's The Host, a Korean caterer provided rice dishes and kimchi for the event.

    Greek Diner (back to top)

    While walking around Long Island City, it is evident that no specific ethnic group predominates over the rest. Within the borders of this melting pot town, we found a Greek diner that reminds one so much of the traditional Greek diners all around NYC. Greek business like diners started to pop up in the late 1950s after a wave of immigration from Greece.1 People had several family members here with them, so they came together to open up a business. This particular diner in Long Island City is called Court Square Diner and has been open for 35 years. The diner is located on 23rd street right next to the 7-subway stop and is open 24/7. We had the pleasure of speaking with one of the waiters who worked at the diner. We found out that in 1993, the current owners, two Greek brothers, took over. The waiter also told us that in the past year, a lot of newcomers, mainly from the city, have been coming into Long Island City. The neighborhood, which used to be largely industrial, is becoming more residential.

    References (back to top)

    1. Kleiman, Dena. “Greek Diners, Where Anything Is Possible.” The New York Times 27 Feb. 1991: 1-2. The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Web. 1 May 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/1991/02/27/garden/greek-diners-where-anything-is-possible.html?pagewanted=1>.

    2. Vandam, Jeff. “Long Island City Comes Into Its Own – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 06 May 2010. Web. 11 May 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/09/realestate/09cov.html>.