Wednesday, December 02, 2009
A Different Dictionary
I was prepared for the worst. I had been told that Willets Point was what Mayor Bloomberg called "another euphemism for blight" or what Robert Moses once described as an “eyesore and a disgrace to the borough of Queens.”
But these were understatements of what I saw when I actually paid a visit by car. As I turned onto Willets Point Boulevard from Roosevelt Avenue, I felt like I was entering another world. Willets Point is far and away the worst looking neighborhood I have seen in the five boroughs.
I initially also found the place menacing, as I was immediately accosted by gangs of men who blocked my travel, at first not realizing that these were efforts by workers to negotiate deals for auto repairs.
I was, however, not in need of repairs but photos. The Hole, which I wrote about in September 2009, was a pastoral sleepy backwater in comparison.
I pressed onward through the neighborhood - the absolute grit of it all just drew me in, and there was no way to turn around anyway. The streets are heavily rutted and flooding is common. Even on a sunny day when it had not rained for two days, the potholes were filled with water, making navigation akin to walking a minefield.
There are no sewers or sidewalks. I saw roosters walking the streets. The area is highly polluted with the buildup of years of oil spills, which has also contaminated Flushing Bay and Flushing River.
The neighborhood is dominated by 225 auto parts and repair businesses, many of them operating out of shacks built from corrugated metal or cinder-blocks. There are over 1,200 people employed in those businesses. The area is unique in its concentration of vehicle repair shops, and people travel from afar for parts and/or repairs.
Efforts to revitalize the area have been proposed and thwarted for decades. There is a redevelopment plan for the area, an extensive ten-year project. This will, of course, require relocation of all of the businesses, if suitable places can be found. The most recent plan was also fraught with difficulties and threats by the Bloomberg administration to use eminent domain, if necessary, to remove the businesses. Things appear to be on track now for the project. “After a century of blight and neglect, this neighborhood’s future is very bright indeed,” Mr. Bloomberg has said.
The area has only one resident, Joseph Ardizzone, who has lived in the area since his birth in 1932. He is opposed to the new plan. I sympathize with Joseph Ardizzone's nostalgic feelings of his youth growing up in the area, but his claims that blight is not the correct word puzzle me a little. I guess he must be using a different dictionary...
Note about the areas location: Willets Point is part of Corona, Queens, and is sometimes known as the Iron Triangle. It is bounded on the north by Northern Boulevard, to the west by 126th Street and Citi Field, to the south by Roosevelt Avenue and Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, and to the east by the Flushing River.