What does it mean to write a profile for New York City? Would it be easier to write one for Queens? Or perhaps, just an avenue and a few side streets of Queens?
Is it too ambitious to hope that we can build collaborative profiles that dig into the hearts and moving limbs of our neighborhoods, cities and districts?
As I started working through these questions these last few months, I went hunting for inspiration.
All of the books I could find on the shelves of the Strand were about food tours in Queens. They recommend trying the Chinese food in Flushing, Latin American food in eastern Jackson Heights (Streets above 77), Indian food South of 77th street in Jackson Heights. It’s harder to find books digging into the history of neighborhoods and community organizations in Queens in a broader context.
Brooklyn is perhaps one of the best known boroughs of New York: a friend who recently visited Stockholm told me everything she found in the Boutiques of the city were “Made in Brooklyn,” because it was seen as THE trendy place to be. I also remember considering where I wanted to live when I first moved into New York City and having everyone ask if I was moving to Brooklyn (it seemed to be followed by a “… because that is where everyone is moving now, dahhhling.”).
It is interesting to watch as more and more of the people I know living in Brooklyn are moving up to Long Island City, Queens. This seems to be a new hub for the artist community. We’ll see what happens!
What I do find, however, is that the stories of Queens come through the talents and pursuits of people from the area. Is this the best way to remember an entire neighborhood’s history? Not really, but I am digging through the material I can find so that I can learn. [Side note: if anyone does know of a great history of Queens piece, please send it my way!]
We found a photographic history of Queens, discussing the neighborhoods through primary sources like flyers for events, local decrees, etc. All for a population that lived in the area around the 1930s. This book is also great, but it was printed in the 1980s and doesn’t answer questions we have about the communities there today. I also found a pictorial history from the NYTIMES describing Old Queens. In terms of more recent texts on the neighborhood, it seems someone is addressing the pan-hispanic communities of Corona and the neighborhoods of Queens through collaborative mapping efforts. In terms of a comprehensive profile, however… there are so many things I would love to dig into or see in another writer’s work.
Some authors are trying to highlight some of the narratives coming out of the community today: Forgotten Borough: Writers Come to Terms With Queens seems to be more about remembering specific pieces of communities and how individuals interacted with these neighborhoods.
I think part of the challenge in developing maps that communicate cities as organic, moving organizations (as I am right now) is that good profiles of cities can really only exist if they can come together as collaborative pieces. It needs to be at the center of a network of different thinkers and doers and people who are able to take all of the overwhelming amounts of information that come from a moving breathing city… and distill it into something we can each sip slowly.
A profile isn’t a good profile if it is afraid to dig in and get its hands dirty — but it is also required to be approachable, in some capacity. If I cannot keep you engaged with my maps and what I want to think about, if I cannot inspire you, you as my partner in developing and understanding my city profiles, to remember corners of the city and the people that move and breathe and create and build there… then I have failed.
But I’m still digging and learning and I want to listen. Teach me how you would listen.