You Can’t Go Home Again, But Your Daughter Can
BY DOREEN MUNSIE
Growing up in Queens, New York, I spent many years taking the Flushing subway line, otherwise known as the No. 7 train. I’ve ridden many New York subways but none that had been selected by the White House as a National Millennium Trail, nicknamed the “International Express” for its interconnection of diverse immigrant neighborhoods. It joins an impressive list that includes notable trails such as the Underground Railroad and the Iditarod.
When I tell people I grew up in Queens, specifically Flushing, I suspect one look at my Chinese face and they think, sure, of course. Flushing’s more like Chinatown these days than Chinatown — inhabited predominately by Asians and populated by storefronts that don’t bother to translate their signs into English. But back then it was a neighborhood mix of immigrants, mostly Jews, Italians, and Greeks. More often than not, I was the only Asian person sitting in my subway car on the No. 7.
Last month, four decades after moving out of the borough, I stood at the Vernon Boulevard station entrance. I was visiting my older daughter who had recently moved to this area with her boyfriend. She carefully chose it after living in Manhattan’s choicest zip codes, Tribeca, Nolita, and the West Village. A variety of practical, personal, and quality-of-life issues factored into her decision to land there.
The No. 7 train was my beeline from home to, well, life. For me, one end was Main Street, Flushing, Queens, and the other was Grand Central Station, Manhattan. After finishing high school, I commuted on this train to go into the city to navigate new neighborhoods, experience cultural institutions, explore new careers, and for higher education.
I knew the No. 7 stops by heart and Vernon Boulevard was the last station in Queens before Manhattan. I remember thinking, just one short ride and then Grand Central Station, New York City. I saw Long Island City strictly as a subway commuter or car passenger. It was a very industrial area recognizable only by its large, metal, neon, cursive Pepsi-Cola sign.
Move over Brooklyn, Long Island City has been discovered. First by artists looking for cheap studio space, followed by businesses and residents, along with shopkeepers and restaurateurs. A surprising transformation from an industrial area into a desirable residential neighborhood makes it one of the most vibrant in New York City today.
Specifically, Hunter’s Point, the western Queens neighborhood directly across the East River from Midtown Manhattan, is rapidly growing. Never mind that the potential (then failed) Amazon deal put it officially on the map, young value-conscious New Yorkers started eying it ever since they realized that you could get more for your money by crossing the river. Real-sized rooms, amenities like a doorman, private green space, gym, and affordable parking, to name a few. Then, there are the views. Is that the United Nations? The Empire State Building? Yes and yes. All, four minutes from Grand Central station via that No. 7 line.
Take a quick stroll along the East River and you’ll find, running along the waterfront promenade, Gantry Plaza State Park, named after the massive gantries that transferred cargo from ships to trains in the 19th century. Remnants of these docks remain as impressive “contemporary sculptures” to remind the neighborhood of its history. The park offers picnic tables, playgrounds, a beach-style volleyball court, a fenced-in dog play area, and plenty of field space. There is a NYC Ferry stop that can take you to nearby Williamsburg, Brooklyn in ten minutes, or across the river to Manhattan in under five. On my afternoon visit, a testament to the postcard views along the promenade, there were no fewer than three wedding parties with brides posing against the Manhattan skyline.
The area’s high-rise residential buildings may lack some of the charm of brownstone neighborhoods, but they are supported by a focus on community development: ample green space, public schools, and an eye to serving a diverse population, as well as, young families and working professionals. There are plans for another elementary school and an upscale affordable housing project. It has thriving art destinations, (MoMA has an outpost in a converted public school there), an exploding restaurant scene, and a new public library that The New York Times called “one of the finest public buildings New York has produced this century.”
So maybe home is not what it used to be. The house I grew up in is still there and has the same furniture in my cramped, old bedroom that I shared with my two sisters. But the neighborhood around it has dramatically changed over my lifetime. I’d also say that about me. While I’m not sure how long that brick row house will remain in our family to link me to my past, that same No. 7 train line my daughter now takes to Manhattan everyday, links us to the future.