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Jackson Heights: City within a City

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Michael Phillips

on 20 August 2013

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Transcript of Jackson Heights: City within a City

Jackson Heights: City within a City
Jackson Heights is often called a city within The City for its centrifugal planning and garden style apartment complexes. At the turn of the century, just before Queens became incorporated into what is now New York City, the land that is today Jackson Heights was wooded farmland. Throughout the first two decades of the 20th century, speculators from Manhattan began buying up all of these farms, with the foreknowledge that the immense wave of immigrants required rapid housing development. The visionary and then President of the Queensboro Corporation, Edward Archibald MacDougall, spent close to 4 million dollars throughout the 1910s in procuring and developing the land that stretches from 70th-92nd between Roosevelt and Northern boulevard ( today Jackson heights technically extends as far north as Laguardia airport).
Here are the six essential criterion Edward MacDougall laid out for his vision of a residential micro-garden city (courtesy of Jackson Heights Beautification Society):
1) Comprehensive [full block] development....
2) Maximum of sunlight and ventilation...with an interior garden, the interior garden taking the entire length of the block....
3) Buildings are set back from the lot lines in order to provide distance between buildings and an opportunity for lawns and planting in the front of the houses....
4) The erection of detached or free-standing apartment buildings, which gives an opportunity for many corner rooms and consequent corner ventilation in most of the apartments.
5) The silhouette produced through a picturesque arrangement of roofs and dormers, towers and other features adds a great deal to the attractiveness of the new type of apartment.

Urban developers at the turn of the century were impelled by the blight and drudgery of the city caused by the late 19th century explosion of industrialization on the metropolitan structure. Left-leaning patricians saw the living and working conditions of those millions of proletarian immigrants crammed into the Lower East Side, working beast-of-burden factory jobs completely disjoint from their own families but for the shared rent. Conservative patricians too saw and feared the development of a hostile underclass lacking any sense of family values, in light of the wretched conditions of this industrializing world. In this way, ideologically divergent points of view could very much come together in favor of providing a more dignifying urban residential space. No space was laid out more thoughtfully or methodically to this end than Jackson Heights.
As Garden Apartments continued their proliferation in Jackson Heights throughout the 20’s 30’s and 40’s, upwardly mobile immigrants (entering the middleclass) from various enclaves on the lower third of Manhattan as well as Western Brooklyn began moving into Jackson Heights. The majority of these incoming residents were second or third generation Italian, and German immigrants; more often than not living in multiple family homes. There were some middleclass Jewish immigrants moving in at this time, however discriminatory renting/buying policy often precluded Jews and African Americans from acquiring residence in Jackson Heights. This impediment began to dissipate at least for Jews after World War II, and especially after Congress passed the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Nevertheless, discrimination has still not ceased with respect to the Native Black population, which as Kasinitz points out, is noteworthy when you notice the lack of Native Black residents in Jackson Heights compare to the heavily-black neighboring communities of Corona and East Elmhurst Macdougal had laid the groundwork for a white middleclass urban residential utopia, one that might allow rapid transport to industrial jobs in Manhattan via the Queensboro bridge or the Elevated subway line first erected in 1917.
It was rather unintended by Edward MacDougal that he created a multi-ethnic paradigm in his garden city. After all, white native-born residents constituted 98.5% of Jackson Heights in 1960, and still upwards of 87% in 1970. But by 1990, the Census shows us that only 39.8% of residents were classified as white, while 41.3% were Hispanic, and 16% were Asian. This rapid change in part has to do with the post-War housing crisis and attendant suburban boom. When MacDougal broke ground on his life-long project, there was no such concept as suburban-sprawl, and so the Garden Apartment structure was considered a respite for community and community values. Nevertheless, as mass-produced suburbs popped up around Nassau, Westchester, and North Bergen couties during the post War Era, many upwardly mobile white families rejected the dream of the Garden City in favor of more green space, more commuting, and more isolation. This great movement of urban and upwardly mobile Whites relocating to the suburbs is often termed ‘White Flight,’ and it is but one piece to understanding the radical demographic Changes in Jackson Heights.
The other essential piece to the puzzle is the Hart-Cellar Immigration Act of 1965. As we have learned, this piece of national legislation allowed for new and profound quotas of immigrants from Latin American, African, and Asia. Likewise, there was a feeling that immigrants would be more valuable and welcome if they were allowed to bring their families/spouses along as well. Since Jackson heights provided residences for multi-family homes beginning to be vacated by the upwardly mobile Whites just as large-swathes of non-white immigrants began to pour into New York, it became viewed as an attractive haven of community for the incoming immigrants.
Today, Jackson Heights is known primarily for two, maybe three ethnic enclaves. There is Little India, which is centered around 74th st between Roosevelt ave and 37th ave; there is also Little Colombia, which is centered around 82nd st between Roosevelt Ave and 34th ave (this street has been affectionately named Calle Colomia). The final ethnic group that has (according to NYGO.Com) achieved enclave status here in Jackson heights is the SouthCentral Asian community, constituting Tibetan and Nepalese immigrants. This community of people is centered just below Little India, in the lower 70’s, called Himalaya Heights. The other two significant groups that may be considered to have semi-enclave status are the white mainstays as well as the newly and rapidly arriving Chinese population. The white community is not significant in size, however as a group they are particularly cohesive and beholden to the well-being of the community, in a way untypical of most middle-class whites in nearby areas. The Chinese immigrants are beginning to make-up a significant plurality within this multi-diverse community; still, the neighboring community of Flushing has a much higher concentration of Chinese immigrants and therefore fits the model of enclave much better.
The reason Jackson heights provides such structural support for its residence has everything to do with the urban design, in that it allows an individual resident laborer to straddle two prospective economies: there is the mainstream, (global)industrial economy in Manhattan (merely twenty minutes west), and there is also the enclave economy provided by the residential character of the neighborhood. To this end, a South Asian or Colombian resident of Jackson Heights can try his luck in some mainstream industrial Job in Manhattan, or provide community services to the local homes (restaurants, markets, pharmacies, et al). There are also higher-end services that are enclave-specific, such as Family Medical practices, local ethnic Attorney services, and luxury goods such as bridal wear and culturally-specific jewelry.
Through my investigation, it seems that Jackson Height’s structural design protects it from attacks on both sides (that is, from crime-ridden urban blight and from gentrification alike). On the one hand, the totally enclosed, near-exclusively residential green-space precludes the possibility of rampant drug and youth-gang presence in this bustling commercial locality. (This is despite the stereotypical and misinformed notion that the local Colombians were centering drug traffic operations within the confines of the neighborhood throughout the mid-80s and 90’s.) Moreover, the private, block-by-block gardens allow for both ethnic cohesion as well as ethnic dispersion, facilitated foremost among young children at play in the courtyard. By the same token, the deliberately durable pre-war construction of the community precludes the rapid capital investment and real estate development that so often facilitates gentrification, white wash, and urban renewal. This is why Jackson Heights’ multi-ethnic milieu may well enjoy longevity. In this manner, despite an increasing trend of Urban Renewal followed by a white, yuppy takeover, perhaps Jackson Heights will remain a model pluralist-utopian city of the future, for the future.
A Multi-Cultural Paradigm
Versailles Court Co-OP
Hampton Court Co-Op Interior
I ate something called a Cholado here that was delicious. Still not entirely sure what this is, but it was all for the good.
Notice that the Farmacia Latina caters to Chinese-speaking residents

It is worth noticing that the immigrant and ethnic communities are more heavily concentrated around Roosevelt Ave (under the Elevated subway line), while the white community tends to live closer to 34th ave or even Northern boulevard. As you travel North in Jackson heights, property value tends to increase. Price discrepancies between white locals and ethnic locals tend to be smaller in Jackson Heights than in surrounding neighborhoods. Also, it is worth noting the number of International Calling business, Remittance businesses, and Immigration Lawyers that maintain business centers along Roosevelt Ave. The omnipresence of such facilities points toward the transnational paradigm about which Luis Eduardo Guarnizo wrote about in his comparative analysis of Colombians in New York City vs. Los Angeles.
While only the Colombian and Indian communities in Jackson Heights constitute an authentic bonafide enclave, there are also many other similar ethnic groups that maintain a solid footing in Jackson Heights. Besides Colombia, many other South American countries are well represented in this area, including Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Venezuela. Besides India, Jackson Heights is well represented by other South Asians, like those from Nepal, Tibet, and Pakistan. These complex demographics represent layers of multi-diversity, that serve to undermine congealed stereotypes to the mainstream host communityof South Asians and Latin Americans alike.
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