From the Queens Gazette:
Is Jackson Heights sustainable? was the question posed by Arturo Ignacio Sánchez Ph.D at a presentation that addressed the economic crisis, changing demographics and the quality of life in that particular Queens neighborhood. Held at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights, Thursday, August 5 at 7 p.m., the event was sponsored by the North Central Queens Working Families Party and City Councilmember Daniel Dromm.
Sánchez quoted Marshall McLuhan: “We live in a global village,” illustrating the idea by noting that people from other countries come to New York, sell their goods on the streets of Jackson Heights, then return home and transform the political economics of their own countries. He referred to their work as “informal entrepreneurships”, and stated that they provide affordable food and products to low-wage workers in the community. Other ethnicities, who come to the U.S. with capital to spend, establish more traditional businesses such as delis and fruit and vegetable markets. This type of “informal economy”, he added, has led to Jackson Heights being an affordable place to live.
Now, Sánchez said, area businesses are closing because real estate values have risen dramatically and only the chain stores can afford the rents. “This is the transformation of Jackson Heights,” Sánchez stressed. “As it becomes more livable, with a higher quality of life, it becomes more attractive and real-estate values go up. You see a displacement of long-term residents. If you’re a senior citizen and you rent, you may lose your apartment.”
Sánchez also commented on the negative impact, in Jackson Heights and elsewhere, of apartment buildings he calls “Fill”, which are new, pricey, often poorly constructed, do not fit with the character of the neighborhood, and which drive out affordable housing. He said that this type of “corporate driven” mentality in New York City does not benefit the average person, but rather the elite, adding to the “increasing fragmentation and polarization of the city”. At the same time, however, he claimed that Jackson Heights is seeing social movements, green movements and sustainability revolving around issues of social justice, bringing positive change and an involved citizenship. And yet, he added, “If we’re going to push things like greenmarkets and the closing of streets [for pedestrian enjoyment]…these ‘best practices’ could bring about unintended consequences [such as increased gentrification]”.
“Will Jackson Heights live up to its legacy?” he queried. “Jackson Heights is the new Lower East Side. Is this, the most diverse neighborhood on the face of the earth, living up to the challenge?” He is hopeful, he said, because of people like Councilmember Dromm. Sánchez’ final question to the crowd was: “How can we do these good things and find balance?”