Jackson Heights: A Changing Neighborhood

Picture of Jackson Heights by Dimitrios Patellis

Areas all over New York City have experienced a constant state of rapid development for several years now. In Jackson Heights, this rapid expansion of businesses and activities have caused conflicted reactions from residents.

The convenience of the growing area has become something favorable among the younger and middle-aged residents of the area. While the older residents see the area’s expansion as just unnecessary overcrowding.

At first glance, Jackson Heights, Queens, seems like any other part of New York City, noisy and crowded. Some reference the questionable maintenance of the neighborhood, a characteristic that takes place in many parts of the city, but if you ask 36-year resident Nicole Torres she might show you Jackson Heights from a different lens.

“Our sidewalks and streets back in the day were clean and swept. Now, garbage is thrown everywhere,” Mrs. Torres said. “As kids, we used to play in the streets all the time, not on video games. You know, breathing fresh air. Today we can’t do that with our kids. Back then you knew everyone on your block and looked after each other.”

She continued on to say, “Now, you’re lucky if you know, let alone see your next door neighbor. Drug deals happening at fire hydrants, corners, and in front of your own homes. People may toot that it’s a wonderful community and all, but they’re just traipsing through visiting for a few hours.”

Unfortunately, Jackson Heights has seen its fair share of struggles over the past few years. Different people will give you different opinions on what they think of the safety of Jackson Heights, but overall there is a steady, minimal crime rate.

Stephan Boissel has grown up and raised his two boys in Jackson Heights. He is yet another resident who sees the area’s rapid expansion as a nuisance.

“So you want the truth about Jackson Heights?” Mr. Boissel said.

“While the convenience of the neighborhood has its perks, convenience has become the main reason for overpopulation in the area. Combine that overpopulation with overpriced housing and terrible square footage, and the quality of life is most definitely going to diminish” said Boissel.

Local residents complain about various different issues. Whether it be a construction zone that blocks a one-way street, the garbage not being picked up in front of houses, or even music being played too loud, there always seems to be an inconvenience of some sort.

“The neighborhood is flooded because people turn their backyards into parking spaces, there are more cars on the road so your kids can play in the street,” he said.

However, not everyone sees Jackson Heights as a declining dumping ground. For Charlie Nilkamhang and his daughter, Lily, living in Jackson Heights for the past 22 years hasn’t been so bad.

Mr. Nilkamhang has actually seen improvements in the area and is optimistic. “Years ago it was a lot worse” he said.

Lily Nilkamhang, who has grown up in Jackson Heights, sees both the pros and cons of the area’s expansion.

“The food scene has grown exponentially — it’s a more diverse market than what it was 5 years ago and it has really brought visitors from around the city and states to this neighborhood,” Ms. Nilkamhang said. “Another one of my friends felt that small business are slowly being pushed out, because rent is skyrocketing. Rent overall is skyrocketing.”

Jackson Heights is known for its diversity, more than half of its residents are immigrants. Particularly Latinos and South Asians, with its own Little India.

This multiculturalism is what draws people to this little area of Queens. Tourists tend to even drop by and stroll the streets looking at how every block has a different cultural offering. The rapid expansion of Jackson Heights is seen by the majority of residents as a way to expand their own tastes and experiences.

Andres Fernandez, a CUNY student who has grown up in Jackson Heights and seen its expansion since he was a kid skateboarding down the sidewalk, is one of the many residents who view the area’s rapid expansion as something positive people should encourage.

“As I’ve grown up in Jackson Heights, I’ve really realized that each year it becomes more diverse,” Fernandez said. “New people and new cultures open up more opportunities and new experiences. For me, it’s fun to explore and interact with these new cultures and although it’s more diverse, it feels like the community is becoming more united.”

This constantly changing area of Queens is becoming more of a hot spot by the month. Opinions of the area vary depending on who you ask, but nothing takes away from the fact that this diverse area crawling with people will continue to expand and become home to many new people, while hopefully introduce more cultures to the area.