The Amazon dilemma: a resident’s approach to the gentrification of Queens

Tenzin Sherpa, Columnist

On Thursday February 13th, Amazon announced that it was no longer planning to build half of its second headquarters in Long Island City, Queens due to opposition from legislators, protestors, and residents. The company will now build one half of its headquarters in Nashville instead of Queens and one half in Arlington, Virginia, as originally planned.

When  I  heard  that Amazon had picked Long Island City to build its second headquarters in November, I was initially upset; Amazon’s presence would only intensify the process of gentrification in Queens that has been occurring over the last ten years, particularly in Astoria and Long Island City.

As housing prices in Manhattan increase, wealthier people look for cheaper options, and Queens is the cheapest option with close and accessible transportation. 

For much of the twentieth century, Long Island City was nearly vacant with abandoned warehouses and factories littering the streets. In the 1990s and early 2000s, however, large companies began building skyscrapers for office buildings. In the span the next of twenty years, Long Island City transformed from what was deemed an “unsafe neighborhood” to an extension of Manhattan. As employees of companies such as Citigroup and JetBlue came to work in Queens, they began moving there for more convenient travel. The increased presence of middle and upper-middle class workers drastically increased housing prices.

Personally, I am against gentrification because it raises the cost of living, which in turn causes restaurants and small local businesses to close and residents who cannot keep up with the rising prices to move elsewhere.

One of the things that I love the most about Queens is its cultural diversity. From a young age, I would walk through my neighborhood, and see countless restaurants serving food from all over the world. I was always taught to be open minded when learning about different cultures and traditions because of how many different people I encountered daily.

My own parents came to Queens from Nepal in the late 1990s. No matter what part of the globe people came from, growing up around kids whose parents came to America for a better life, who spoke another language in addition to English, whose parents had similar jobs, and instilled in them similar values, made us that much more connected. If Amazon had tried to move in only fifteen years earlier, I might not have been able to have this crucially formative experience of being raised with other children of immigrants.

Issues such as gentrification impede the cultural representation among residents present in the playgrounds and local businesses of my youth. As residents who can afford more come into neighborhoods like Queens, big fast food chains and retail companies buy out restaurant and small business owners.

In my own neighborhood, I see small restaurants replaced by food places that are often overpriced and inaccessible to the majority of the community. Because Queens has such a diverse immigrant population, many of them are working class, and often work labor-intensive jobs. The problem with a company like Amazon claiming that their influx of jobs will help Queens residents is that many people living in Queens are not even eligible to apply for these jobs. Working white collar jobs often require a high level of English proficiency and a college degree, which a large number adults in Queens do not have because of socioeconomic status and access to resources.

About a month ago, I received a letter from Amazon wishing us a happy New Year and listing  the benefits their new headquarters would bring to Queens. One of these benefits was the influx of 25,000 new jobs, but is unlikely these these new jobs would have actually been made available to members of nearby communities. Since so many immigrants live in Queens, I find it difficult to believe Amazon would hire any locals due to their generally lower levels of English proficiency and education.

According to Amazon, some of the other benefits included $27 billion in revenue for NYC and the donation of real estate to build a public school in LIC.

The letter ended by saying how excited Amazon was to interact with such an amazing community like Queens, yet that letter was the only communication we ever had with Amazon. It only makes sense that a company looking to profit in a community of people who would not benefit from their presence would be met with such anger and resentment.