Long Island City tour
Queens in flux: great views of Manhattan, waterfront parks, industrial heritage, historic district, and embedded arts community. Also, a riot of new development.
Lonely Planet named Queens the United States's top tourist destination in 2015. This tour focuses on one of Queens's most interesting neighborhoods.
The jumble of Long Island City in far western Queens just below the Queensboro Bridge presents echoes of the past, like working lofts and a gem of a historic district (the fourth-best block in the city, Time Out NY once said).
But it’s more notable for vigorous steps forward, with booming new office, residential, and hotel development at Court Square and Queensboro Plaza, not necessarily great architecture, and high-rise housing along the waterfront, including Queens West and Hunters Point South, the site once planned for the Olympic Village. Much remains in flux.
Long Island City tour highlights
The stunningly situated Gantry Plaza State Park incorporates old gantries used in shipping. It retains an iconic (if relocated) Pepsi sign. However, the legendary Five Pointz graffiti mecca is a ghost, slated for new development.
Though the number of artists has declined somewhat, there are still several buildings filled with artists' studios, stalwarts in the annual LIC Open Studios weekend in May. LIC contains several arts destinations, notably MoMA PS 1 and the Sculpture Center, which we pass on our tour, as well as places further afield, including the Noguchi Museum and Socrates Sculpture Park.
The historic manufacturing district, which took advantage of transportation--the Queensboro Bridge, the Midtown Tunnel and subway and rail lines--has declined, as new development rises.
Today, Long Island City is full of juxtapositions, with the borough's tallest building near a classic courthouse and the refurbished schoolhouse that's now MOMA PS1 Queens.
Vernon Boulevard, the main shopping street, retains its historic scale, even as it gains many new businesses, including restaurants and bars. (Some early gentrifiers are being gentrified out.)
The waterfront, with its new parks, towers, and stunning views, is a short walk away. This is the most "Brooklynized" part of Queens, for better and for worse, echoing some of the history and experience of Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and DUMBO, as well as Battery Park City in Manhattan.
Distance from Midtown Manhattan: 15-25 minutes
Basic tour length: 2.5 hours (see fees)
Starting place: Varies, but typically Court Square; we can start at your hotel or Queensboro Plaza, as well
Ending place: Varies, but typically waterfront
Highlights: History, architecture, new development, waterfront views, parks, arts institutions
Before tour: Visit Sculpture Center or MoMA PS1; try new LIC Smorgasburg (Saturdays, through October).
After tour: Visit LIC Flea (weekends April through fall) or Rockaway Brewing; take East River Ferry to Greenpoint, Williamsburg, DUMBO, Wall Street, or East 34th Street
Potential tour extensions with me: more of LIC above Queensboro Bridge, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, DUMBO