Queensbridge Houses

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Queensbridge Houses, as seen from the Queensboro Bridge

Queensbridge is the largest public housing development in North America. Owned by the New York City Housing Authority, the 3,142-unit complex is located in Community Board 1[1] and accommodates approximately 6,907 people within two separate complexes (North and South Houses), each accommodating about 3,450 residents.[2][3] It is located in Long Island City in Queens and opened in 1939.

Structures[edit]

Queensbridge, the largest of Queens's 26 developments, is located between Vernon Boulevard, which runs along the East River, and 21st Street. It is immediately south of the Ravenswood power plant, and just north of the Queensboro Bridge, the latter of which the complex is named after. The complex is the largest housing project in North America. The development is separated into two complexes, the North Houses on 40th Avenue and the South Houses on 41st Avenue. The namesake station of the New York City Subway's IND 63rd Street Line (F train) is on the eastern side of the complex on 21st Street.

Buildings[edit]

The Queensbridge Houses (right), Queensbridge Park (left), and Ravenswood Generating Station (background)

The 96-unit six-story buildings are distinctive due to their shape of two Y's connecting at the base. This shape was used as the architects hoped it would give residents more access to sunlight than the traditional cross-shape. The design was said to be cost-efficient, and they reduced the cost even further by using elevators that only stopped at the 1st, 3rd, and 5th floors. Political pressure to keep costs down was a key reason for the use of cheap designs. W.F.R. Ballard, Henry S. Churchill, Frederick G. Frost, and Burnett Turner designed Queensbridge.[4]

In many aspects the buildings of Queensbridge are very similar to most government-built housing projects of the era. They are a worn grayish brown which now suffers noticeable deterioration and weathering. Each building is painted red to about four feet up from the ground, giving a united feel to the entire complex because a uniform red "layer" is always close, throughout the complex. On each of the corners in Queensbridge, the New York City Housing Authority has posted signs indicating the project's name and management: "Queensbridge North (or South) NYCHA." These signs come in several varieties depending on their age. The oldest signs, erected in the early nineties, are simply orange and blue, with the newer signs featuring graphics, like those of many other projects.[4]

Access to buildings in the complex is by key or via a new intercom system. The halls of Queensbridge’s buildings are comparable to most municipal buildings, and are dilapidated and lined with worn light blue tiles. Apartments are painted white and are fairly small, even by New York City standards. Within the last few years, the elevators have been rebuilt and now stop at floors 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 and kitchens have been completely renovated and now have frost-free refrigerators. Three thousand bathrooms were renovated with new tubs, toilets, vanities, floor tile and lighting in 2000. This followed a renovation in 1986 when 1000 of the bathrooms were renovated by Arc Plumbing.[4]

Amenities[edit]

Queensbridge Park

As a result of the 1937 Wagner Housing Act, Congress would only approve funds for public housing if the housing was unattractive to middle-class families who would otherwise buy or rent homes in the private housing market. The original plans nonetheless included some basic amenities, like a central shopping center, a nursery and six inner courtyards for play. In the 1950s, there were also three playschool rooms, a library, a community center with an auditorium where shows were put on, a gymnasium with a wooden floor that doubled as a wooden-wheels roller skating rink, activity rooms downstairs, and a cafeteria upstairs where the playschool children ate their lunches. Some of the downstairs activities included tap dancing, ballet, art, playing the recorder and singing, pool, knock hockey and table tennis, as well as Girl Scout and Boy Scout meetings. Residents enjoyed concerts during the hot summer months in the square central shopping area, and the Fresh Air Fund sent poor children out to the Peekskill mountains to release them from the crime and grit plagued streets.[4]

The buildings in the complex are divided by a series of paths and small lawns. Also in the complex are several basketball courts and play areas lined with benches. Across Vernon Boulevard lies Queensbridge Park, which has a fully lit baseball diamond, running paths, lawns and areas for picnicking. That park, home to the Queensbridge Little League, is the primary place of recreation for tenants of the project. Queensbridge Park is the venue for numerous summertime live concerts, with music ranging from R&B to Latin. During the 1950s and up through 1970, Queensbridge Park was called "River Park," after the East River that runs next to it. There was also a smaller park placed conveniently right under the Queensboro Bridge called "Baby Park". Baby Park was closed due to debris falling from the bridge during maintenance work in the late 2000s. Baby Park was replaced by a new playground for the same age range, between 40th-41st Avenues, within Queensbridge Park itself.[4]

History[edit]

Queensbridge opened in 1939. During the 1950s, the management changed the racial balance of Queensbridge by transferring all families whose income was more than $3,000/year, a majority of whom were White, to middle-income housing projects, and replacing most of these tenants with African American and Latino families. In addition to providing safe and sanitary housing to many low-income African American and Latino families, this policy also promulgated racial segregation in public housing.[4]

Queensbridge is well-known for its contributions to hip hop and rap music, and has been home to some of the most influential musicians in the genre. Marley Marl Williams was the first in a long succession of acclaimed artists from “The Bridge”, which came to be one of the most famous hip hop neighborhoods in the country. The Bridge was an incubator of talent, and its deep roster of well-known rappers and producers helped to put it on the map, and then immortalize it in the lyrics of its rapper-denizens. The Juice Crew collective, hugely influential in the 1980s, featured among its members Queensbridge rappers MC Shan, Roxanne Shanté, and Craig G, all of whom were known and respected in the evolving scene of the 1980's and early 90's. Perhaps Queensbridge's most famous and innovative rapper is Nas, who burst onto the scene in 1994 with his debut album, Illmatic — considered by many critics and fans alike to be one of the best hip-hop albums of all time. Illmatic painted a dark picture of the projects during the height of the crack epidemic in poetic, even virtuosic flows on tracks like 'New York State of Mind' and 'One Love,' while fellow Queensbridge alumni Mobb Deep followed up his 1993 debut with The Infamous, which featured Nas and hip hop heavyweights from outside Queenbridge and included one of hip hop's most enduring anthems: 'Shook Ones Part II.'

While the BDP conflict with MC Shan had already put The Bridge on the rap map in the 1980's, the new crop of Queensbridge rappers like Nas and Mobb Deep made frequent references to the Queensbridge Houses that cemented its reputation as a dystopian vision of poverty, drugs, and violence just as New York City's problems with crack cocaine and the unprecedented carnage it had brought to places like Queensbridge reached a crescendo. Other notable artists associated with the Queensbridge hip hop scene include Blaq Poet, Mobb Deep, Cormega, Tragedy Khadafi, Nature, Screwball, Capone, and Big Noyd.

Regarding the Queensbridge music scene, XXL columnist Brendan Frederick wrote:

By the 1970s, Queensbridge experienced a rise in crime with the rest of the city. However, toward the 2000s, crime went down.

For many years Queensbridge has had a problem with drug dealers and drug users. An 11-month police investigation led to the arrest of 37 people during a drug bust in February 2005. Another raid in February 2009, following a seven-month investigation, resulted in 59 arrests.[6]

Population[edit]

As of 2013, Queensbridge had a total population of 6,105. The racial breakdown was 61.4% black, 2.3% white, 1.9% Asian, 1.0% American Indian and 2.4% multiracial. Hispanics and Latinos of any race were 30.1%. [7]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ Queens Community Boards, New York City. Accessed July 16, 2008.
  2. ^ http://gis.nyc.gov/nycha/im/AddressMap.do.
  3. ^ Barry, Dan. "Don't Tell Him the Projects Are Hopeless", The New York Times, March 12, 2005. Accessed July 16, 2008. "UP, up, up it rises, this elevator redolent of urine, groaning toward the rooftop of another tired building in the Queensbridge public housing development, the largest in Queens, in New York, in North America."
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Queensbridge, NYC: Inside America’s Largest Public Housing Project", Untapped Cities, July 1, 2013.
  5. ^ Frederick, Brendan (April 13, 2006). "Mobb Deep's Queensbridge Classics". XXL Magazine. Harris Publications, Inc. Archived from the original on December 10, 2008. Retrieved September 1, 2008. 
  6. ^ Lee, Trymaine (2009-02-05). "59 Arrested After Drug Investigation in Queens". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-07. 
  7. ^ http://www.city-data.com/
  8. ^ "Blaq Poet - Tha Blaqprint", HipHopDX, July 9, 2009. Accessed November 29, 2017. "When commercial artists weren’t busy riding the South’s finger snapping, Auto-Tune crooning coat tails, tight pants-wearing hipsters began to slowly take over sections of Brooklyn with their Diplo beats and overly ironic sensibilities. While the rest of the city seemingly sinks further and further into a musically mire, Queensbridge emcee Blaq Poet stands strong with his debut LP Tha Blaqprint, after over two screw-faced decades with Screwball, fighting hard in the trenches for Queens recognition and a king’s respect."
  9. ^ Golianopoulos, Thomas. "The Bridge Is OverThe Queensbridge Houses were once at the center of the rap universe. What happened to hip-hop's most storied housing project?", Complex.com, November 25, 2014. Accessed November 29, 2017. "'Each block in Queensbridge has its own mentality, its own movement. '— Capone.... Though Noreaga is from Lefrak City, Queens, his work with Queensbridge native Capone made him synonymous with QB."
  10. ^ Nosnitsky, Andrew. "Cormega Looks Back at Queensbridge, Jail and His Return", MTV.com, September 29, 2011. Accessed November 29, 2017. "When I moved to Queensbridge that's when I knew that I knew how to rap, because my cousin had me rapping around people that was good and I stood out. So from there I started taking it real seriously."
  11. ^ Evelly, Jeanmarie. "Prodigy Mural Goes Up in Queensbridge in Tribute to Late Mobb Deep Star", DNAinfo.com, July 6, 2017. Accessed November 29, 2017. "Prodigy, whose real name was Albert Johnson, joined forces with fellow rapper Havoc in the 1990s to form the hip-hop duo Mobb Deep. Originally from Long Island and LeFrak City, Prodigy met Queensbridge Houses native Havoc while in high school, and the pair spent much of their time at the sprawling housing complex for which they became best associated, according to XXL Magazine."
  12. ^ Ettleson, Robbie. "Interview: MC Shan Talks Juice Crew Legends, Little Known Beefs, and His Fallout With Marley Marl", Complex.com, January 12, 2013. Accessed November 29, 2017. "MC Shan was an original member of the Juice Crew All-Stars, perhaps the greatest collection of MCs ever to claim membership to the same crew, at the same time. His Queensbridge anthem, 'The Bridge' claimed the No. 1 spot on Complex’s list of the greatest Queensbridge rap songs (and No. 16 on our list of the greatest hip-hop beats), and served as the unwitting catalyst in the Bridge Wars, following Boogie Down Production's humiliation at the hands of Juice Crew founder Mr. Magic."
  13. ^ Huang, Eddie. "Prodigy, My Favorite Rapper", The New York Times, June 21, 2017. Accessed November 29, 2017. "Rap music raised me, despite the haters that have questioned its ability to inform me in an authentic manner because of my skin color or their skin color, or my time spent in Orlando, Fla., or P’s time in the Queensbridge projects of New York."

Sources

  • “Queensbridge, New York, N.Y.,” Architectural Forum 72 (Jan. 1940), pp. 13–15.
  • Samantha Henry, “A Good Rap: Residents of the Queensbridge Houses Make Their Claim To Fame,” Newsday, August 5, 2001.
  • New York City Housing Authority, “Factsheet”, April 19, 2004. [1]
  • Gail Radford, “The Federal Government and Housing During the Great Depression” in John F. Bauman, ed., From Tenements to the *Taylor Homes: In Search of an Urban Housing Policy in Twentieth Century America (University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000), pp. 102–120.
  • Henry S. Churchill. The City is the People. New York. Norton. 1945
  • http://www.city-data.com/

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°45′18.7″N 73°56′43.2″W / 40.755194°N 73.945333°W / 40.755194; -73.945333