Less Than Picturesque

April 16th, 2010 § 1 comment

queens

astoria

Queens, for some bizarre reason, has a very bad reputation when it comes to its aesthetic virtue. In a show on NPR a while back the borough was humorously described as being less than picturesque, and I was appalled by its representation in the movie Julia & Julia, where shots of trains I take and buildings I walk by looked manipulated to make Queens even more discouragingly ugly than it actually is. Certainly it is not Manhattan, the island of architectural diversity and beauty, but I can’t make it less attractive than Brooklyn. I find Queens mostly made up of attractive residential buildings surrounding the train lines, suburban strip malls farther outward, and industrial warehouses along the waterfront. Beginning in recent years with Long Island City, the closest area of Queens to Manhattan, and working eastward, gentrification of sorts has slowly begun. LIC reminds me of what Williamsburg might have been a few years ago, after the artists but before the high-rise glass condos. While I love my neighborhood (Woodside)  with its little houses and tiny gardens, Colombian cafes and ethnic diversity, and its close distance to Manhattan and Brooklyn, it matters very little for my photographic purposes how picturesque Queens may or may not be. Often the “uglier” it is, the more interesting it becomes.

queens 1

astoria 1

Having finished the Amsterdam walk and before moving on to my plan to explore High Bridge Park along the east river, I spent a day photographing LIC. Originally hoping to move there this summer, I was interested in exploring the area in terms of its livability, as well as to photograph what I often see from the train. LIC is more expensive than many other neighborhoods in Queens, partly because of its location and party because its inhabitants are becoming whiter and whiter—although I imagine the two are connected. What I find interesting about areas like this, neighborhoods known because of their gentrification, is that while you imagine an entire neighborhood full of little shops, restaurants, and bars this is not really the case. Rather, there are a few main streets where all of these things are located, and the farther you get from them the more the look and feel changes back into its original gray and worn self. One of the things I love about nyc is that it feels like a well used place, and has the interest and comfort of a hand-me-down. I was very happy to wander through taxi hubs, down deserted streets full of warehouses, around various construction sites, and in a park under renovation beneath the Queensboro bridge. I like not knowing what to expect, and Queens is good with surprises, as you never know what sort of bizarre business, building, or activity is going to pop up along the next block.

queens 2

astoria 2

Continuing my exploration of Queens this past weekend, I decided to walk along the waterfront from Astoria to LIC, connecting my two walks together at the end but covering along the way completely different territory. Astoria to me will always be made up of lovely residential homes that rent only small shady basements to newcomers, and wonderful Greek food. I remember Astoria Park from my first time apartment hunting in nyc, and watching the sun set around the Hell Gate Bridge was one of the few pleasant moments of that traumatizing experience. Astoria Park, I found, is really the only large section of the Queens waterfront before LIC that has been turned into a pubic area. Leaving that long stretch of park I found myself amidst disturbingly quiet industrial buildings running next to sleepy houses. You can’t actually follow the water so much as stick close to the buildings keeping you from it. The waterfront then winds its way though a long string of projects, directly followed by a sculpture park promoting the work of local artists. After walking through a creepily isolated ghetto it was equally odd to find myself in a park with pale babies and designer dogs. Onward from that I found what I hadn’t known existed in nyc: a Costco.

queens 3

astoria 3

All in all they were strange walks, and Queens is undoubtedly a strange place. It will take a while to cover enough ground to be able to know it really well, and even longer for it to lack surprises; even if they are as depressing as a Costco toward which the only other walkers gravitate.

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