The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for September 14th, 2018

certain theories

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Central planning likes homogeneity, which is why they hate Queens. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There really is no place like the Borough of Queens, and in particular the western half of it, for encountering sudden visual serendipity. You’ll notice the Triborough Bridge peeking out from a driveway between two semi detached houses in Astoria, a commanding view of the Manhattan skyline from a toilet’s window on Jackson Avenue in LIC, or a railroad train running through someone’s back yard at a BBQ in Woodside. Maspeth’s elevation offers grandiose views of the entire “soup bowl” surrounding the East River and Manhattan, as does Calvary Cemetery in Blissville, and I can tell you – Landing Lights Park in East Elmhurst is an exceptionally interesting place to bring a camera if you’re an aviation enthusiast. 

It’s the patchwork nature of Queens that makes it a special place. Up until a little over a hundred years ago, all the “111” zip codes of modernity were part of an independent Long Island City, Woodside was a seperate town, and so too was Winfield distinct. That’s why you sometimes feel like you’ve crossed from one distinct “zone” into another in Queens, and why we all use our individual community names instead of “Queens” on return address postal labels. Disturbingly heterogenous is the way I’d describe the alignment of street grids, abundance of dead ends, and the chaotic building stock in Queens. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Queens is still the way all of NYC used to be. Organic and quixotic, quite filthy in certain places, and there are entire blocks you’d be better off walking around than down. There’s too much traffic and not enough transit. It’s a Tower of Babel, with dozens of languages being casually overheard as you saunter along. There’s houses of worship to nearly every god you can imagine (haven’t been able to find a temple to Svarožič, the proto Slavic fire God yet, but give me time… it’ll probably be just north east of Elmhurst somewhere). There’s no form of food you cannot seek and find, product you can’t acquire, nor trouble you cannot get into hereabouts. I know a place in Jackson Heights that will custom tailor a gold thread embroidered Hindu wedding suit that comes with curly toe boots, for instance. The one governing rule in Queens is a complete lack of cross compatible unformity from one side of the street to another, and that there really aren’t any sort of rules. You do what you want or can do, until somebody from the City shows up and hands you either a ticket or a cease and desist order. 

It drives the urban planning crowd insane, Queens does. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The City Planning types like order, geometric precision, and clarity of purpose. They also like ordering things to be done to Queens in the hope of “fixing” it and making it palatable to Manhattan centric sensibilities, something that started with Robert Moses digging trenches through Astoria so that his arterial highway system could feed traffic to his Triborough Bridge. You don’t get a street with a “Utopia Parkway” cognomen if urban planners aren’t involved. 

These folks like “plazas” and theorize about “desire lines” while worrying about density restrictions and guide lines. They spend their working life at the exact intersection where politics and big money real estate crash together, and see some of their best laid plans laid to waste when a concession from a Real Estate Developer is paid to the exigent needs of the Politician who needs to ensure that “the International Brotherhood of Screw Turners Local 6” gets 15 on site positions for the duration of the project. They look and listen as the local community folks yell and scream about gentrification, displacement, and rising rents with calloused eyes. The same sort of eyes that a stripper looks at all males with, since they’ve seen only the toxic excesses and behavioral extremes of the gender. Urban planners, accordingly, have developed a thick skin to the voices of the “locals.” They call us “NIMBY’s” or some other derogatory term.

Thing is, out of chaos comes order, not the other way around. Chaos is life, and entropy is vibrant. Order is staid, banal, maddening. If you allow the urban planning crowd the chance, all of Queens will be covered in campuses visually reminiscent of NYCHA housing. Manhattan is not the model to follow for the “solution to Queens,” rather it’s the problem. I’d rather live in a forest than an orchard, personally.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 14, 2018 at 11:30 am

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