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Queens, NY: The World's Borough

Visual and social research project in progress


At first glance, Queens seems a study in superlatives.  At 117 square miles, it is the largest borough of the city, constituting fully one-third of the total land mass of New York.  With 2.2 million people it is the second most populous borough after Brooklyn, and as a stand alone city would rank fifth in the nation. As a county, it is the most ethnically diverse in the United States, with people from nearly all of the world's countries represented; the neighborhood of Elmhurst, for example, contains residents from 110 countries according to the 2010 census. Queens has the largest, busiest, and most multilingual public library system in the United States.  And it has the longest shoreline of the boroughs, with 'three coasts'--the Sound, the Atlantic, and the East River.

Despite its size and diversity, Queens is probably the least well known of the boroughs; it is not so much paradigmatic as it is enigmatic.   An administrative subset of New York City, it presents no discernable center of its own, and endures a historically weak identity as a unit. Unlike Manhattan and Staten Island, Queens is not a self-contained geologic entity; it is one of the four arbitrarily drawn political boundaries that segment Long Island, including the counties of Suffolk, Nassau, Queens, and Kings (Brooklyn).  And unlike Brooklyn, Queens was never a city in its own right, but rather a county composed of a patchwork of small towns, marshes, trade roads, and farms.  As a result, residents today tend to identify intensely with their neighborhoods, as reflected in the postal addresses (Flushing, NY, for example).   


This long-term projects focuses attention on Queens--warts and all--in the context of globalization, immigration, labor, housing, automobility, and the ever-changing relations of people on the streets.  A close study of Queens gives us pause to rethink the past, present, and future of American urbanism, and to reject normative conceptions that presume Manhattan as a standard for what a city should look like, do, and be.

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