Long Island City (Queens) 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, which New York magazine in 2017 said was the fastest-growing neighborhood in the USA. In November 2018, Long Island City was named as one of the two locations for Amazon's second headquarters. In February 2019, Amazon pulled out.
The jumble of Long Island City in far western Queens just south of 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 furious growth, 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, which is why LIC might be considered multiple sub-neighborhoods. And the Amazon announcement, as well as a new report (my coverage) on the unexpected transformation of LIC into a high-end residential neighborhood, raises questions about equitable growth.
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. Other manufacturing buildings in the area have been converted to residential or new commercial use. However, the legendary Five Pointz graffiti mecca is a ghost, replaced by 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.
Note: Long Island City is vast, and typically this tour does not go north of the Queensboro Bridge. We can extend north of the bridge if we have time and energy. And we can combine this with a tour of adjacent Sunnyside and the eastern section of Long Island City.
Distance from Midtown Manhattan: 15-25 minutes, by subway/taxi, also accessible by East River Ferry
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
After tour: Rockaway Brewing; take NYC Ferry to Greenpoint, Williamsburg, DUMBO, Wall Street, or East 34th Street
Potential tour extensions: more LIC above Queensboro Bridge, Sunnyside & LIC East, Greenpoint, Williamsburg
Why I like leading this tour: I've spent a lot of time in LIC over the last 12 years and enjoy showing locals and visitors how it's changed so much--and has sections and streets that are dramatically different. Plus: the waterfront is spectacular.