Friday, March 6, 2009

Queensbridge Housing Projects: A look at the largest housing projects in North America

Safe, scared, un-welcomed, and content are just a few of the feelings one can expect to experience when they walk through the streets of Long Island City, Queens. An area that is troubled with a strange paradox of new versus old, L.I.C. is a place that seems to bustle one minute with new life, while having shades of emptiness lingering in the shadows. Through an almost troubling journey through the city, I took intrigue in the Queensbridge Housing Projects located in the Northwestern part of L.I.C. The “Bridge” as most Queens natives refer to it, is the largest housing project in North America opened in 1939 with 3,142 units. The New York Housing Authority owns these projects that occupy almost 7,000 individuals. “The Bridge” brings its residents a large sense of community, yet is raided with crime. Residents here don’t know whether to feel safe or to stay locked indoors, a feeling that is all too familiar, as it proves reminiscent of the one I myself experienced in the city, which begs the question: is there a parallel between life in “the bridge” and life in L.I.C? Furthermore, is there a relationship between these projects and the Fortune Society?

In the 1950’s, it was mandated that any family in the Queensbridge housing projects with an income of over $3,000 had to move out. The majority of these people were Caucasian, leaving the projects, which was once a blend of all ethnicities and races, to have a heavily populated African-American community. It was this majority of African-American’s that caused any Caucasian family still living in the projects to leave due to uncomfortable feelings. Still, with “the bridge” populated mostly by African-American’s and Hispanics, there was a strong sense of community. Selena M. Blake, a former resident of the Queensbridge Housing Projects, wanted to bring awareness to this sense of community in her documentary Queensbridge: The Other Side. Several residents and former residents interviewed in the documentary also had a lot to say about the community noting things such as “the doors were never locked,” “black, white, Hispanic, it didn’t matter, it was great,” and “everybody got along.” An argument she raises in the film is this paradox between misery and community. If the projects are to be a place filled with crime and unsafe feelings, than what’s the explanation for the long waiting lists? which Selena attributes is due to a community feeling over families that are just in need and on the edge of poverty.

While Selena’s documentary shows a time where the projects was a safe place to raise your kids despite the crime, it still doesn’t answer why the crime is there in the first place. In fact, just recently in early February of 2009, 59 people between the ages of 17 and 68 were arrested on charges of narcotics and firearm trafficking. Councilman and chair of the Public Safety Commission, Peter Vallone Jr., noted “these types of arrest are both dangerous and difficult, but well worth the effort.” Where do these people go? We place them in jail and prisons, where they will then face a life afterwards that, as we’ve seen from the Fortune Society, isn’t as easy as the life they have in prison because there are new challenges to face in being a formerly incarcerated individual.

In another short clip of Queensbridge: The Other Side, one man gives a powerful message when he talks about how society today categorizes people as ‘project people,’ that society doesn’t see the councilman, the mothers and the fathers, they see the projects. This brings an issue very closely related to the Fortune Society in that society today categorizes formerly incarcerated individuals as just that, not John, or Joe. Selena Blake once said about her documentary, “If kids today will say 'I don't have to feel bad because I'm from the projects,' it will be worth it.” In working with Next F Project, it puts organisations like the Fortune Society in perspective; if formerly incarcerated individuals can say ‘I don’t have to feel bad because I am a formerly incarcerated individual,’ because of the Fortune Society, than I think we can all say, Fortune’s worth it.


New York City Housing Authority, “Factsheet”, December 2, 2008.

Burger, John; Her Film Project Happens to be Her Project; New York Times, December 2005

Leonard, Paul; Drug and Gun Bust at Queensbridge Houses, Queens Chronicle, February 12, 2009

Queensbridge: The Other Side film clip,

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