Jackson Heights (Queens) tour
The most interesting neighborhood in Queens: immigrant mix (Indian, Nepalese, Colombian, Mexican, etc.), a once-planned community of garden apartments, bustling and contested shopping streets, many food options.
Note: we can combine Jackson Heights, Sunnyside, and Long Island City--truncating each--into one "Slice of Queens" introductory tour, probably about 6 hours including a stop for lunch.
Jackson Heights is a big cousin of sorts to Sunnyside: both were planned communities in western Queens. The latter stressed individual houses, while Jackson Heights contains stunning apartments with courtyards; it was where the garden apartment was pioneered in the United States (and later diminished as the Queensboro Corporation's control waned).
But Jackson Heights is much larger and contains multitudes, including the center of Queens' LGBT life and the arrival of numerous immigrant communities in recent decades, transforming into what some academics call "hyperdiversity." (See this article on the successes, complications, and tensions regarding Diversity Plaza.)
Parts of it are gentrifying/gentrified; others are more working-class, full of street vendors and street life, especially at Diversity Plaza, near the 74th/Broadway subway complex, and along Roosevelt Avenue and Northern Boulevard. Roosevelt has many businesses aimed at immigrants, such as travel agencies and money transfer companies. Several nonprofit organizations help immigrants avoid exploitation as workers and tenants.
The neighborhood was depicted in Frederick Wiseman's fascinating 2017 documentary, Jackson Heights, which highlighted "one of the world's most diverse communities." It was the site for the affecting film Maria Full of Grace, about a young Colombian woman who becomes a drug mule and is helped by the local "mayor."
It's also the home of the annual Queens "Momo Crawl," in which attendees can taste--and rate--momos (dumplings) from a variety of Tibetan, Nepalese, and Indian restaurants, food stalls, and food trucks.
While others' tours may focus on food in Jackson Heights, or the neighborhood's architecture and (mostly private) gardens, I aim to bridge the two, with optional food and shopping stops, aiming to give visitors a broader understanding of a large and complex neighborhood. (I'm not the Queens food expert, but you can't ignore food--or snacks--in Jackson Heights.)
It is also the home of activism on behalf of undocumented workers, street vendors, and LGBT Queens residents (especially Latinos). More soberly, nearby Elmhurst Hospital was "Ground Zero" of the COVID-19 crisis.
Depending on our pace, we may extend slightly beyond the borders of Jackson Heights to see a bit of Woodside to the west, Corona to the east, and Elmhurst to the south--all contributing to the area's ethnic mosaic and offering lower-cost housing.
Distance from Midtown Manhattan: 15-20 minutes via subway
Basic tour length: 2-2.5 hours (see fees), unless combined with other neighborhoods
Starting place: variable
Ending place: variable
Highlights: History, architecture, parks, public institutions, ethnic diversity, food
Before/after/during tour: Eat!
Potential tour extensions with me: Sunnyside or Long Island City, both relatively nearby on the 7 train.
Why I like leading this tour: Jackson Heights is a complex place. I aim to make it more legible, and untangle some of the layers.