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The NYC Neighborhood Where It Looks Like the Apocalypse Just Happened
May 1, 2014 1:09 PM   Subscribe

"I’m fascinated by organic neighborhoods that somehow manage to survive despite the gentrification of the city, and I’m not sure there’s a better example of this than Willets Point. Rundown, polluted, forgotten, and undervaluing its land, a place like Willets Point is the complete antithesis of everything New York has become today." - A photo essay by Slate's Nick Carr
posted by Slap*Happy (93 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Willets Porn.
posted by Jahaza at 1:13 PM on May 1


Lots of these buildings wouldn't look out of place out here in Jamaica, Queens... They don't look un-New York to me... just other-New York. Queens contains multitudes.
posted by Jahaza at 1:15 PM on May 1 [4 favorites]


Scouting NY visit to Willets Point.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:18 PM on May 1


organic neighborhoods

"Organic" seems an odd adjective for this particular monocrop of auto-repair businesses.
posted by yoink at 1:20 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]


Shut-UP! You want the hipsters should move in?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:22 PM on May 1 [4 favorites]


Yoink said monocrop, not monocle. Don't worry.
posted by Night_owl at 1:23 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]


Oh god, the redevelopment plan looks awful.
posted by Think_Long at 1:24 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]


you begin to feel like you’ve somehow been transported to a strange apocalyptic world of tin shacks and ramshackle garages.

Apocalyptic? Because there's garages? This person either needs to get out of New York more or never leave, and I'm not sure which.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:25 PM on May 1 [24 favorites]


Can I sell stolen Lamborghinis there?
posted by planetesimal at 1:25 PM on May 1


Why would the city just stop taking care of the roads in that area? That seems really odd to me.
posted by Area Man at 1:28 PM on May 1 [4 favorites]


Why would the city just stop taking care of the roads in that area?

This assumes they ever started taking care of the roads in that area. There are a lot of places in New York where road maintenance is a low priority.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:30 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]


Can I sell stolen Lamborghinis there?

That's up to Master Blaster.
posted by ocschwar at 1:30 PM on May 1 [4 favorites]


This is great; such a weird place lost in time and I think it's a fairly humanizing look what with the robots and teddy bear, although I wish we could have seen more actual people. I wonder if there is an economic reason that it's full of auto body shops, or if it's just cultural?

I think DC's equivalent of this might be the weird no man's land of giant wholesale warehouses bounded by New York Ave., Florida Ave., 6th St. and Penn.

And yes, the hipsterification has already begun.
posted by capricorn at 1:30 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]


Why are post-apocalyptic places usually industrial-looking and populated by mechanics in people's imaginations? Did it start with Mad Max?
posted by ChuckRamone at 1:31 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]


This is only shocking/postapocalyptic from an (understandable) NYC perspective of the densest, newest possible utilization of every inch. There are many areas of the US where anything rusty is not immediately removed and replaced by a bakery. For example, this degree of dilapidation is basically what you see out the window for about two-thirds of any train journey in the East Coast.

The only thing that really stuck out (that is, to me, a person who's never worked on a car) was that dude without any hand or eye protection.
posted by ostro at 1:33 PM on May 1 [4 favorites]


Willets Point looks like countless neighborhoods in Tehran and countless other Iranian cities. Only difference is, the auto shops are next to the bazaar and restaurants so you get this thick, warm smell of gasoline, oil and foodstuffs mixed up with families out for a evening stroll.

Great, now I'm feeling sentimental and want to make out with some corrugated iron sheets.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:34 PM on May 1 [12 favorites]


Apocalyptic? Because there's garages? This person either needs to get out of New York more or never leave, and I'm not sure which.

The thing is, there's nothing but garages, and junkyards, and open fires, and hustlers trying to sell you parts. Mad Max covers it pretty well. Apocalyptic is pretty accurate, if you've ever been there. It's what's left of Fitzgerald's Valley of Ashes -- the actual ash heaps were hauled away to create the 1939 World's Fair.

It's all going away, though.
posted by neroli at 1:34 PM on May 1 [8 favorites]


Apocalyptic? Because there's garages? This person either needs to get out of New York more or never leave, and I'm not sure which.

Your quote distorts the author's point. In the immediate preceding sentence, he notes there are no sidewalks, road signs, lamp posts or manhole covers --- that is, that the normal civil architecture is entirely absent. It is that absence --- of those visible signs of the presence of government, the demarcations of public space --- which gives the neighbourhood an atmosphere of lawlessness.
posted by Diablevert at 1:34 PM on May 1 [21 favorites]


Foreign Parts is a documentary on Willets Point and some of the people who work and live there. Its main goal is capturing the sights and sounds of the neighborhood but it's framed by the fight by residents to block the redevelopment plan.
posted by edeezy at 1:35 PM on May 1 [3 favorites]


Welcome to a portion of NYC that is identical to every city. There are parts that are pretty and parts that exist to be functional. The functional parts make life nice for the masses including clueless Slate writers.

For Nick Carr to dismiss a working neighborhood as "like the apocalypse just happened" is just plain insulting.

christ, what an asshole
posted by lampshade at 1:35 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]


I was looking at the robots and thinking of the movie "I, Robot" and wondering if these would be considered long lost ancestors or missing links or something. If the robots would think of these as part their family tree.

And, also, yeah: Why is post apocalyptic always some down urban area, devoid of flora? If you watch "After people" (or "after humans"?), they had awesome clips of stadiums filled with trees where there once was a grassy field, weeds breaking apart sidewalks and stairs, etc. Life finds a way. It doesn't stay urban once people stop maintaining it as that.
posted by Michele in California at 1:36 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]


Every city has no sidewalks or sewers?
posted by neroli at 1:36 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]


FYI everybody, I'm pretty sure the photographer is a mefite, so maybe be a little kind?
posted by Think_Long at 1:38 PM on May 1


For Nick Carr to dismiss a working neighborhood as "like the apocalypse just happened" is just plain insulting.

christ, what an asshole


Have you been there? I used to live near that part of Queens. It's a bit eerie, and the fact that there are no sidewalks and signs makes you feel like maybe you're not actually in the city anymore, like you're wandering around on private property, lost in a huge industrial park or a ship yard or something. It gives you the feeling that you're not supposed to be there.
posted by Diablevert at 1:41 PM on May 1 [15 favorites]


For Nick Carr to dismiss a working neighborhood as "like the apocalypse just happened" is just plain insulting.

That's a bad misreading of what he's doing. He's romanticizing it and idealizing it; the last thing he's doing is "dismissing" it. This isn't a "let's tear down this ghastly symbol of urban blight" piece. And, you know, there's room for such a perspective. It's all very well to go all nostalgie de la boue over a place like this, but is this really the best use of the land? From what I understand, a large percentage of the dwelling units in the proposed redevelopment are slated to be affordable housing. Yeah, the architecture is pretty bland and no doubt the shops that move in will be pretty generic, but is "huh, isn't it quirky that this place continues to exist so close to NYC" really worth more to the total social fabric than providing a thousand extra affordable-housing units?
posted by yoink at 1:42 PM on May 1 [4 favorites]


I would have framed this as a "can you believe this place is in NYC?" rather than call it post-apocalyptic. I've been to many places like this, especially in Mexico and other places south of the U.S., and they are disturbingly without aesthetic (or zoning, or sewers, or etc.), but post-apocalyptic not so much.
posted by mcstayinskool at 1:44 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]


Welcome to a portion of NYC that is identical to every city

Every city has some gritty industrial areas, but the sheer number of auto body shops and nothing but auto body shops seems odd as do the lack of sidewalks and government maintained roads.
posted by Area Man at 1:44 PM on May 1 [3 favorites]


I would have framed this as a "can you believe this place is in NYC?" rather than call it post-apocalyptic.

this
posted by lampshade at 1:46 PM on May 1


Your quote distorts the author's point. In the immediate preceding sentence, he notes there are no sidewalks, road signs, lamp posts or manhole covers --- that is, that the normal civil architecture is entirely absent. It is that absence --- of those visible signs of the presence of government, the demarcations of public space --- which gives the neighbourhood an atmosphere of lawlessness.

My point was that outside New York, this attitude makes little sense. Sidewalks, lamp posts, manhole covers? There are plenty of inhabited places in the US that don't have those, but do have mechanics. Shit I was probably 19 before I saw a manhole cover in real life, and I didn't grow up in an apocalyptic wasteland. There also are lampposts and power lines all over the pictures; a quick look at Google Street View reveals street signs at intersections where you'd expect them. It may not look like New York, but it looks like plenty of other places, just writ a little larger and more densely. If that looks like the apocalypse to you, you might have a bit of New York myopia.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:46 PM on May 1 [6 favorites]


The movie Chop Shop was filmed in Willets Point. It's a pretty well done movie and really gives you a feel for the area.
posted by wellvis at 1:47 PM on May 1 [3 favorites]


I only know the area from the movie Chop Shop.
posted by octothorpe at 1:48 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]


Have you been there?

yes...and have lived in many places like it. and not just in nyc.
posted by lampshade at 1:54 PM on May 1


The NYT article that neroli links to above is actually much better than Scouting NY's context-free photo essay. Basically, what you've got there is a swamp-turned-dump(Fitzgerald's "valley of ashes" from The Great Gatsby)-turned-cash-on-the-barrel-bodyshoparama that you see on the fringes of a lot of cities, big and small, and Willets Point is a weird little spit of land that is bracketed by a couple of expressways, Flushing Meadows, Citi Field, and Flushing Bay; it probably would have stayed the equivalent of any other oversized vacant lot in any other city, except that this is NYC, and some developer probably saw its close proximity to a ball park and started drooling. It's worth remembering that NYC covers five whole counties, so yes, not every single square acre is crowded cityscape.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:55 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]


Apocalyptic? Because there's garages?

Not because there are a lot of garages. There are no sidewalks, no stoplights, no street signs, no sewer grates or manhole covers.

Also, This house stands out as being the only one of its kind in the neighborhood and is home to the one lone resident of Willets Point, Joseph Ardizzone, who has lived here since he was born in 1932.

It's not a working class neighborhood. It's a bunch of body shops with one old guy living in the middle of it.

Except for those two guys from the Paper Street Soap Company.

posted by ActingTheGoat at 1:57 PM on May 1 [5 favorites]


yes...and have lived in many places like it.

If you lived there, it wasn't like it. There is only one resident of Willets Point.
posted by neroli at 2:00 PM on May 1 [12 favorites]


My point was that outside New York, this attitude makes little sense. Sidewalks, lamp posts, manhole covers? There are plenty of inhabited places in the US that don't have those, but do have mechanics. Shit I was probably 19 before I saw a manhole cover in real life, and I didn't grow up in an apocalyptic wasteland.

Then you must have grown up someplace without a sewer system, someplace sparsely inhabited enough that it didn't require one. Of course outside New York the place might not seems weird; it's the juxtaposition that makes it weird. It's in the biggest and densest city in the US, one which has a police force larger than some country's armies and a bureaucracy to rival Byzantinium, and yet for those few square blocks that drops away, with tin shacks teetering higgledy-piggledy and cars parked sprawling, covering half the street. You get the feeling driving around there that it's a place the city doesn't poke its nose in, and trust me in Bloomberg's New York that was a bizarre feeling.


It may not look like New York, but it looks like plenty of other places, just writ a little larger and more densely. If that looks like the apocalypse to you, you might have a bit of New York myopia.

I've seen the view of Central Park from a midtown skyscraper, and I've seen toe up from the flo up apartments in Bed-Sty, and I've seen shitty industrial warehouses, both gentrified and non, and million dollar condos, and squats with no running water, and plenty of nice middle class neighbourhoods with 3 and 4 story apartment blocks and lots of vinyl-clad duplexes. And I've seen Willets Point. And Willets Point is eerie. Maybe it wouldn't feel out of place in Mexico City or Tehran or Lagos. In New York it's weird.
posted by Diablevert at 2:03 PM on May 1 [17 favorites]


There's a few really good Asian buffets and supermarkets around there but you can't see them from th street.
posted by jonmc at 2:04 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]


... this degree of dilapidation is basically what you see out the window for about two-thirds of any train journey in the East Coast.

I can believe it. A few years ago I was visiting in-laws in Tarrytown, NY. One day we took the commuter train into Manhattan, and I was amazed at the sheer amount and density and layers of humanity's detritus almost the whole way there.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:06 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]


I’m fascinated by organic neighborhoods

Oh dear, I thought, reading that lede. Organic? The predictable contrast to Willets Point vs. New York CityTM throughout the photos made the use of such a catch-all term awfully reductionist, awfully clumsy. I really enjoyed the photos, it certainly seems a nifty corner (err, triangle) of NYC. But I reckon that scratching deeper than "look at this vs. that" will reveal the limited utility of a word like 'organic' here.
posted by Theophrastus Johnson at 2:07 PM on May 1


Apocalyptic? Because there's garages?

Honestly. It just looks like an old industrial park, or a lot of North American cities' semi-rural outskirts.

Then you must have grown up on someplace without a sewer system

Or a place with a natural drainage course or culverts and/or an area where there's access to sanitary mains by other means than a manhole. Or a part of town that never really had a need for storm drains so they didn't bother putting in catch basins and sewer grates.
posted by Hoopo at 2:12 PM on May 1


Re: the one lone resident of Willets Point, Joseph Ardizzone

Mr. Ardizzone is the sole registered voter; he may not be the only resident.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:12 PM on May 1 [3 favorites]


although I wish we could have seen more actual people.

I'm sure the people are there, but including pictures of them would have made it harder for the article writer to push his "isn't this totally, like, weird, OMG" Slate linkbair take on a small run-down industrial hold-over neighborhood. (And if the Mets get a decent team one of these years and start pulling in big crowds, I assume the chain restaurants and coffee shops will take over the place soon enough.)
posted by aught at 2:19 PM on May 1


There's a few really good Asian buffets and supermarkets around there but you can't see them from th street.

The first Google street view I pulled up showed a sign for the Laxmi brand Indian spice warehouse.
posted by aught at 2:22 PM on May 1


Looks a little like a few parts of KCMO I used to live in. Love it.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 2:23 PM on May 1


"Yeah, the architecture is pretty bland and no doubt the shops that move in will be pretty generic, but is "huh, isn't it quirky that this place continues to exist so close to NYC" really worth more to the total social fabric than providing a thousand extra affordable-housing units?"

Yes, Willets Point as it is now might be worth more to the total social fabric.

The key is the phrase "total social fabric". A lot of people can get a lot of work done on their cars, both provide and purchase parts for said vehicles, and a lot of people can be employed by that industry. A lot of small sums of money changes hands many times. It's a very local portion of the economy.

A thousand affordable-housing units will be a regulated rent-seeking enterprise, concentrating the monies into the coffers of a few, whereas the 1200 job holders of Willets Point spend everything they get, each month, locally.

The city will be tearing off that piece social fabric and throwing it away. Effectively none of the workers in Willets Point will live in the rent-controlled housing that will replace them. It's Schumpeter's gale.
posted by the Real Dan at 2:23 PM on May 1 [10 favorites]


I'm sure the people are there, but including pictures of them would have made it harder for the article writer to push his "isn't this totally, like, weird, OMG" Slate linkbair take on a small run-down industrial hold-over neighborhood.

This is from a blog devoted to scouting possible filming locations. It is almost by definition not a people-focused blog, it is all about unusual locations that people may not know existed. I've never been to New York. I didn't know this existed. This blog showed me what I'm missing.

I think this thread has hit some weird nexus of Slate hate and NYC hate.
posted by Think_Long at 2:25 PM on May 1 [14 favorites]


I think this thread has hit some weird nexus of Slate hate and NYC hate.

Since you said this after quoting me, I feel compelled to point out there's no NYC hate coming from me (Slate hate, or just Slate fatigue, granted).

I just don't get the puzzlement people seem to have over the kind of neighborhood I would expect to find tucked somewhere into any big city. (I mean, no sidewalks = OMG Apocalypse... really?) Once upon a time big cities had lots of specialized districts that were packed full of a particular kind of shop (Diamond, Garment, Meatpackers, etc). This seems to me to be a holdover from that era, of an automotive bent.
posted by aught at 2:36 PM on May 1


Just to repeat, neroli's NYT link is an excellent supplement to the blog in the top link. They interview several people who work and live in Willets Point (one guy gets paid to sleep in cars at night and ward off tow trucks and thieves), and there's even a couple of videos.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:39 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]


Fascinating and bizarre. The captions say there are no sewers—are they talking about storm sewers, or sanitary sewers? Because it kind of seems like you need both, even in a place like this.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 2:48 PM on May 1


This is amazing: how could I have been to so many Mets games and had no idea this area existed?

> clueless Slate writers

The guy is a dedicated investigator of NYC whose blog Scouting New York is a must-read; I guarantee he knows more about the city than you do, so think about to whom your "clueless" might more appropriately apply (not to mention your concluding remark).

> My point was that outside New York, this attitude makes little sense.

And yet this article is about New York. What's your point? And in general, why this deep-seated need on the part of some commenters to try to tear down something that's written with loving attention? I lived in NYC for twenty-three years and thought I knew it pretty well, and this is new to me; if it's "meh" to you, I guess you've seen everything there is to see in this variegated world, so congratulations, but there's no need to take it out on a good post.
posted by languagehat at 2:49 PM on May 1 [25 favorites]


The key is the phrase "total social fabric". A lot of people can get a lot of work done on their cars, both provide and purchase parts for said vehicles, and a lot of people can be employed by that industry. A lot of small sums of money changes hands many times. It's a very local portion of the economy.

You're assuming an awful lot of things here, though. Among them that none of these businesses, if displaced, would open elsewhere and that none of the people who work in these businesses would be able to continue in the same line of employment. That seems an unlikely assumption, though. Surely there's a fairly fixed total demand in the NYC area for car service work (and scrapyard work--although that, one imagines, employs a fairly small number of people in any case); pushing that work out of Willet's Point isn't going to mean it simply ceases to be done.

The claim about that money servicing the local economy also seems to operate on a set of rather dodgy assumptions. How many of the people who work in Willet's Point live there? Essentially none of them, at all. So where do they live? Nearby? Perhaps, perhaps not.

And it may (or may not) be true that none of the people who currently work (but do not live) in Willet's Point would take advantage of affordable housing in a redeveloped Willet's Point. I don't really see why it's self-evident to you that none of them would, but even if we concede the point, so what? Why are the needs of the people who would take advantage of it inherently of less value than the needs of the people who currently commute to Willet's Point to work?

I'm not saying you're wrong, by the way. For all I know if you actually penciled out all the total harms/benefits of the redevelopment (and note that for all the jobs lost in Willet's Point, a lot of jobs would also be created in the process of redevelopment) the harms would outweigh the benefits--that would require a very intensive analysis to determine. All I'm saying is that it's not self-evidently clear that a place where a bunch of auto-repair and scrapyard businesses settled because the land was cheap and, presumably, taxes were low necessarily has a right to continue to exist in that state simply because it's kinda quirky and kinda picturesque.
posted by yoink at 2:57 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]


And yet this article is about New York. What's your point? And in general, why this deep-seated need on the part of some commenters to try to tear down something that's written with loving attention?

I think it might have something to do with the part where it's described as "a strange apocalyptic world". Sights like these are evidently not uncommon for a few people here and maybe "wow it looks like God completely smashed the shit out of this place" is rubbing them the wrong way.
posted by Hoopo at 3:20 PM on May 1


Years ago I was helping a theater director put together a benefit event at the Roxy, the old roller-rink-cum-nightclub in Chelsea. We built a stage for a variety of pretty big-name celebrities to play a familiar parlor game in front of a crowd of donors and arts-supporters. The concept was "West Side Story" and the teams of celebrities wore matching jackets and were encouraged to strut around like street toughs on an elaborate stage resembling a vacant lot underneath an elevated train track.

The director wanted a burned-out car to make it look real. The junkier the better. If it wasn't burnt, art department could fix that, and maybe spray on some graffiti, but it would be best if it had no wheels, no doors, and no windows. Oh, also if you could find a back seat and a few car doors, the celebs might need somewhere to sit.

So we went to CC Rentals and drove a white box truck out to Willets Point. I don't need to describe it, you've all seen the pictures. It looks the same now as it did then. But a lot of those photos must have been taken on the weekend or after business hours, so you can't see what's inside a lot of the shops.

Basically, as you go down the main strip you look left and right and there are salvage shops selling parts: engine parts, control parts, wheel parts, etc. and gradually as you go, the parts get either bigger or more assembled. That is to say, less disassembled. So if you're looking for a specific part of a specific car, it may not yet be taken out of the engine it's in, or the engine may not yet be taken out of the car it's in, so you might have to walk a little further and buy a bigger chunk of car than you were looking for, or pay a guy to pluck what you were looking for out of its natural home. I think if you bring your own tools they'll probably let you do it yourself in some shops.

Then at the very end are the body parts: panels, hoods, trunk covers, doors. Most of the stores sell just one part, though a lot of them have stripped chassis sitting in the back lot.

Anyway we went around asking to buy a dead chassis, a few doors, and a back seat, the worse condition the better. Whatever you couldn't sell in a million years, you name it. It's just for a prop on a stage, and we don't even want it for more than one night, we're paying someone to come tomorrow and take it to the dump. (To be honest, I don't think there was a plan, I think the director had the idea that he could just take it all out to the Meadowlands in the morning and ditch it all in the tall grass).

You wouldn't believe how many guys said no. "That's not what we do, what the hell are you talking about? That's crazy, hey Danny? These guys want a car for a stage set, some Broadway shit I guess? Come on, get lost!"

Of course one savvy businessman saw all the angles. "You can't just dump this stuff, you'll get arrested. You want to bring it back here when you're done with it? Okay, $150 for the car, I'll give you five doors for $100, and then you wanna bring them all back to my lot in the morning? You want one with wheels? No I guess it isn't really going anywhere, is it. Okay one wheel, oh man, I wish I could see this set -- $125 a ticket? Forget it."

There was a crowd of laughing mechanics watching as a guy forklifted a stripped 80's Honda chassis into the back of the box truck. "Drive safe, take the bridge," said the proprietor. "You don't want to have to explain that to a police officer."

When we got to the Roxy it took about ten people to slide the chassis onto dollies and hoist it up onto the stage. By evening the set looked pretty damn good. The event went off without any celebs catching tetanus from jagged scrap corners, and in the morning, all the parts went back where they came from.

That's my Willets Point story: the junkiest car rental in New York history.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 3:32 PM on May 1 [49 favorites]


This has been touched on above, but I think it bears repeating.

Nick Carr isn't "of Slate." Slate republished the article from Carr's blog, Scouting New York, which documents curious locations around New York City, and sometimes, outlying areas.

Scouting New York is up there with Forgotten NY and NYCSubway.org on my shortlist of fantastic websites about the city.

I would highly recommend reading the guy's blog. Carr isn't some kind of asshole who just left Manhattan for the first time. He's a thoughtful scholar of the architecture and history of NYC who has a decided knack for securing access to secluded areas. I fancy myself someone who knows a lot about the city and its environs. He knows far, far more than I do.

Maybe Carr shouldn't have used the word "apocalyptic." But Willets Point is genuinely anomalous around these parts. It's not just another industrial park or an area with auto shops, and given the impending development, I'm glad people are documenting the area and drawing attention to it while they still can.

(Also, just because an area lack sewers doesn't mean it has a great alternative. Case in point: the literal cesspools of The Hole, another underserved and anomalous wedge of a neighborhood.)
posted by evidenceofabsence at 3:47 PM on May 1 [26 favorites]




For Nick Carr to dismiss a working neighborhood as "like the apocalypse just happened" is just plain insulting.

No, what's insulting is not noticing that this is someone who is lovingly documenting this working neighborhood out of fascination and appreciation, and who clearly, at the end, indicates he is not happy with the redevelopment that will sweep away all that is interesting here.

But maybe you would have gotten there if you had read the article?

clueless Slate writers

As noted, not a Slate writer. They found this interesting feature on his personal blog and thought it deserved wider attention. There is little doubt that Carr spends more time in more parts of NYC than anyone at Slate, and probably a good percentage of the population of NYC, even.

christ, what an asshole

Hm. Clearly, an exercise for the reader?
posted by dhartung at 4:30 PM on May 1 [4 favorites]


I would highly recommend reading the guy's blog. Carr isn't some kind of asshole who just left Manhattan for the first time. He's a thoughtful scholar of the architecture and history of NYC who has a decided knack for securing access to secluded areas.

Absolutely, I know he's been posted here more than once and it is always great stuff. I remember one of an old hotel and there was apparently this one from about 2 months ago, another from a couple of weeks before that
posted by Hoopo at 4:37 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]


I became annoyed at the numerous references to this "neighborhood", which is it is clearly NOT. Not by any reasonable definition. One legal resident living in the one legal residence does not a neighborhood make. Yeah, I get that a few employees probably crash on pulled out car seats etc. But this is a commercial district of some unholy type, not a neighborhood. There, now I feel better.
posted by absentian at 4:53 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]


Nice. I always like reading about out-of-the-way, "forgotten" corners of the city. But I think some of that is just inevitable due to the arbitrarily vast region covered by the city's borders. If Willets Point were just outside the city limits in New Jersey or Long Island would it be as noteworthy?

On the same theme, these little islands in Jamaica Bay are fairly unremarkable, other than that they happen to be within NYC's borders and are thus one of the few NYC census tracts with a population of zero.
posted by pravit at 5:07 PM on May 1 [5 favorites]


I'm from LA, but my dad's spent the last 30 years working in just this sector of the automobile economy. Out here, you see the same shambled together by hand aesthetic, the same unmaintained streets and lack of sidewalks, and the same sense that these places generally don't get outside visitors ever, even including municipal services.

For a look at the LA version of this, go down to Wilmington by the port of LA/LB and drive around the lettered streets near the intersection of Anaheim St and Avalon Blvd, or to a lesser extent Long Beach Blvd between Willow St and 7th St in Long Beach. The latter has been cleaned up a lot recently due to the city's efforts at rezoning and encouraging the razing of old businesses in favor of sparkling new residential highrises, but as recently as two years ago looked pretty dilapidated and suffering from "the land that time forgot" syndrome.
posted by malapropist at 5:12 PM on May 1 [3 favorites]


How dare they attempt to obliterate auto-repair shops with a walkable urban development.
posted by humanfont at 5:20 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]


"a place like Willets Point is the complete antithesis of everything New York has become today"

I also don't think this is true at all. It may be the complete antithesis of everything New York is perceived to be, in the sense that it's not glitz and skyscrapers, but in some ways it's very New York. In the sense that even the glitziest and skyscraper-iest part of the city is still a fairly chaotic jumble of buildings that is kind of dirty and smells like urine and is crumbling in places. If you told me there was a part of NYC out in the industrial area of Queens where they repaired cars, my imagination of that place would not be very far from Willets Point.
posted by pravit at 5:30 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]


Thomas Prior's pictures of Willets Point are a much more interesting take, I think.
posted by msbrauer at 6:47 PM on May 1


If you're going to accuse someone of being ignorant of the neighborhoods and social fabric of NYC, Nick Carr is probably the last person you should turn to.

And, yeah. Some of the etymology here is confusing. Willets Point doesn't exactly cover a gigantic area, so the fact that only one guy lives there isn't exactly relevant. DC's Florida Avenue Market (mentioned upthread) has 0 residents, but my old house was across the street. I could have thrown a baseball into the "neighborhood" from my front lawn if I wanted. It has no residents, but there are plenty of people nearby.

I'm usually the first person to take offense when somebody labels a neighborhood as "bad" or "up and coming," because these places are home to people. However, I have no issue describing an area of the city that has no modern infrastructure, and no oversight from the government as "apocalyptic.". Willets Point is very much out of place in New York City (even though the city itself is a land of many anachronisms). I mean, seriously. Any place that has hundreds of auto body shops per mile (and one resident) is freaking weird, much less that it's in New York City in 2014.

I thought that Nick's conclusion was thoughtful. Willets Point serves a role... but it's very clearly in its twilight. It's time for the neighborhood to move on, and its a shame that there aren't opportunities for the neighborhood to organically evolve (and not result in its complete demolition). The track record for slash-and-burn urban renewal doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

Urban growth is painful, but opposing it only seems to make things worse.
posted by schmod at 7:21 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]


How dare they attempt to obliterate auto-repair shops with a walkable urban development.

The development of Willets Point is far from the most evil thing taking place in NYC real estate, but there are legit reasons to see the current plans as a mixed bag.

The good: It's fantastic that Willets Point will finally be paved and tied into the sewer system. The status quo sucks, the place is an environmental mess, the city can always use more school buildings and affordable units, and it's great that the plans involve walkability and street-level retail. Even better, as far as I know, the city is attempting to do all of the above without invoking eminent domain.

The not-so-great: While business owners will be bought out and given funds to relocate, the informal workers of Willets Point, who are vulnerable to begin with, will only be compensated in the form of a worker assistance program (read: free classes). Some will be able to commute from their homes in, say, Corona, to wherever the shops that do manage to relocate end up. (Bear in mind that repair shops are closing and being pushed out citywide.) Others, such as one man mentioned in the NYT article who sleeps on the lot, or the woman who sells lunch to the workers, will probably be left adrift.

Meanwhile, the retail jobs created by the new development will pay considerably less than the repair jobs they're replacing. Locally-owned businesses will be replaced with national chains. And yet another neighborhood full of auto repair joints will be recontextualized in a land grab by major real estate developers (Related and Sterling Equities) who only reluctantly added the affordable units to their convention center, and are creating high-rise structures that seem like a good idea now, but might not be sustainable in the long run, especially if the city contracts again.

It's a good thing, mostly, but it ain't perfect.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:13 PM on May 1 [9 favorites]


A few years ago I was visiting in-laws in Tarrytown, NY. One day we took the commuter train into Manhattan, and I was amazed at the sheer amount and density and layers of humanity's detritus almost the whole way there.

Say what? This train ride has some of the most beautiful Hudson River scenery there is! If only you'd sat on the other side of the train.
posted by maggiemaggie at 9:00 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]


Thomas Prior's pictures of Willets Point are a much more interesting take, I think.

Why, other than they're more "artsy" with oversturated colors. The OP pix give me a solid view of the neighborhood; Thomas's could be on another planet for all they convey of life on the ground.
posted by kjs3 at 9:08 PM on May 1


Willets Point is very much out of place in New York City (even though the city itself is a land of many anachronisms). I mean, seriously. Any place that has hundreds of auto body shops per mile (and one resident) is freaking weird, much less that it's in New York City in 2014.

Yeah, that's what strange/weird about it. There's lots of auto body districts in the world, but as this one is in the densest city in a dense region, the auto body plains go on and on and on and on and on and on and on.

But of course, the densest city in America is, by world standards, not even that big. I can barely imagine what the equivalent area of Lagos is like.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:21 PM on May 1


This train ride has some of the most beautiful Hudson River scenery there is! If only you'd sat on the other side of the train.

Oh, I agree, and I did enjoy the hell out of the ride (as well as the entire visit - well, except for maybe hyper-commercialized Times Square). As a tourist, I was staring out both sides and marveling at both realities.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:20 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]


Today I learned that in the US selling used tyres, sorry: tires, is a reasonable business proposition. I did not expect that.

The linked photos were very interesting, BTW. When I'm abroad I'm often more fascinated by these kinds of environments than monuments and palaces.
posted by Harald74 at 12:02 AM on May 2


aught: "I just don't get the puzzlement people seem to have over the kind of neighborhood I would expect to find tucked somewhere into any big city."

I'm from Houston, which is a big city, but I've never seen something like this. And I live in Tokyo, which is another big city, but I've never seen something like this. And while I'd expect it in some cities, New York is not one of the cities I'd expect it in. So that's why I think this is interesting (or, as you put it, "puzzled"). I suspect other people who are "puzzled" may be in similar situations.
posted by Bugbread at 1:25 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


Count me in as another person who doesn't think this looks that apocalyptic. Terrible roads and hardly any streetlights? Reminds me of when I lived in Berkeley.
posted by kersplunk at 2:03 AM on May 2


> Sights like these are evidently not uncommon for a few people here and maybe "wow it looks like God completely smashed the shit out of this place" is rubbing them the wrong way.

So what? For any sight on earth, no matter how amazing it may be to most people, there are people to whom it is a yawn. There are people who see Iguazu Falls or the Kaaba or those places shown in the "views from a plane window" post every day of their lives. Should they drop into a thread where people are expressing amazement to go "meh"? It just strikes me as a tedious and, frankly, shitty use of one's time here on earth to go around telling other people they shouldn't have reactions to things.
posted by languagehat at 5:25 AM on May 2 [4 favorites]


Harald74: "Today I learned that in the US selling used tyres, sorry: tires, is a reasonable business proposition. I did not expect that."

They are previously installed, but aren't completely used up. Maybe the previous owner didn't like the traction or the noise or how they made the car ride.

this comes in handy if you have a tire that is damaged beyond repair and the rest are reasonably new. Instead of getting a new one and having three tires that will reach the end of their life sooner, you might be able to find a used one with (close to) the same amount of miles on it so that you can replace them all at the same time without wasting one good one.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 5:55 AM on May 2 [3 favorites]


It just strikes me as a tedious and, frankly, shitty use of one's time here on earth to go around telling other people they shouldn't have reactions to things.

Since I'm the one that started this, I'll clarify, although I think I was pretty clear. My complaint was entirely to the reaction that this is "apocalyptic." Anyone is welcome to find this place cool, unusual, or interesting; it's all those things. Finding a place that has street lights, roads (even if they're crummy), buildings, people, art, and commerce "apocalyptic" is what bugs me. That's all. It's genuinely unusual (at least in the context of New York City), but it's not apocalyptic.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:00 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


I mean, I think "post-apocalyptic" was a bit of a lazy writing here, but you don't think there would be roads, buildings, people, art, and commerce after the apocalypse? (Well, it depends on what kind of apocalypse, and how total.) A significant amount of literature and film disagrees. (And, perhaps, some lived experience.) Unless you're thinking that the only possible apocalypse is a total one? There are a lot of people who don't use the word that way.
posted by Casuistry at 6:18 AM on May 2



I think DC's equivalent of this might be the weird no man's land of giant wholesale warehouses bounded by New York Ave., Florida Ave., 6th St. and Penn.

And yes, the hipsterification has already begun.
posted by capricorn at 1:30 PM on May 1 [1 favorite +] [!]


Capricorn, I had the exact same thought about the same neighborhood in DC. Rode through it on my bicycle one day and realized how precarious that was with no lanes, stoplights, stop signs or anything else to regulate traffic. Sort of a free-for-all.

But look at the sheer density of body shops in Willets Point! See, parts businesses are trading in parts, but body shops are generally about SERVICES. And apparently there is enough body work business in NYC to sustain 225 body shops in that tiny area.

That, to me, is pretty amazing.
posted by Thistledown at 6:26 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, the retail jobs created by the new development will pay considerably less than the repair jobs they're replacing.

I hate to be all Randian, but in what way are retail jobs "replacing" repair jobs? Sure, the repair jobs won't be in Willets Point anymore, but it's not like the cars they were repairing will stop breaking down. The jobs will exist elsewhere, possibly closer to where the workers and customers are -- since all of those shops aren't supported by the ONE resident of Willets Point.

This whole discussion is pretty much the poster child of the anti-development, upper-class left: this neighborhood I would never go to must be saved for the sake of the businesses I would never patronize to assuage the guilt I pretend to feel over my Park Slope lifestyle.
posted by mikewebkist at 6:30 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]


Having spent a significant part of my youth in a house less than a mile from there I always thought of it as "that part" of Roosevelt Blvd. and figured that was why people made fun of Queens. It looked pretty much the same in the 1960s.
posted by lordrunningclam at 6:40 AM on May 2


This whole discussion is pretty much the poster child of the anti-development, upper-class left

Just to be clear - I called the redevelopment plan awful, because to my eyes it is really ugly. I didn't necessarily say that it shouldn't happen or that it was a bad plan, just ugly in that faux-urban condo aesthetic sense.

I will admit that my proclivity is to hate all new development (because in my city it is mostly awful, awful, awful), but I am working on being more pragmatic in my opinions.
posted by Think_Long at 6:48 AM on May 2


> The captions say there are no sewers—are they talking about storm sewers, or sanitary sewers? Because it kind of seems like you need both, even in a place like this.

Yeah, I'm curious about that, too. I've walked around there and don't remember seeing porta-potties, but I can't believe they have septic tanks. I don't know how urban sewage works other than what I learned from Richard Scarry; what could it mean for a neighborhood that dense to not have sewers?
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:57 AM on May 2


Following up on my previous comment, I think pretty much every city or metro area has a section, or multiple sections, like Willets Point where light industrial and ugly business you wouldn't want next door tend to congregate just because people don't want them next door. The town I live in now does. It's just that being New York theirs are on a somewhat grander scale.
posted by lordrunningclam at 7:06 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


From the NYC Development Plan:

Currently, the Willets Point area is not connected to the New York City sanitary sewer system and relies entirely on septic systems as the means of sewage treatment. The nearest connection to the City sewer infrastructure from the District is at the existing below-grade 37th Avenue Pump Station, located approximately 4,000 feet northwest of the District.
posted by neroli at 7:25 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


This NYT article from 2008 is also worth reading, for people who are actually interested in the area*.

When Gordhandas Soni, the owner of an Indian food company, agreed to relocate his warehouse and factory to Willets Point, Queens, back in 1990, it never occurred to him to ask about some of the more basic amenities — the sewage system, for example. “You never ask, ‘You have sewers here?’ ” said Mr. Soni, whose business is called House of Spices. “In America, right here, in the heart of New York City? No! It never occurred to me to ask. It would be silly to ask.”

*As opposed to lurching around looking for someone to snark at and feel superior to, which seems to be happening a lot in this thread.
posted by neroli at 7:30 AM on May 2 [5 favorites]


My only question is, with hundreds of auto-repair shops crammed into this small area, how do you choose?
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 7:46 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]


The one your neighbor's brother-in-law's poker buddy works at, I imagine.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:29 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


Thistledown: "Capricorn, I had the exact same thought about the same neighborhood in DC. Rode through it on my bicycle one day and realized how precarious that was with no lanes, stoplights, stop signs or anything else to regulate traffic. Sort of a free-for-all. "

I'm not sure if NYC has a food warehouse district, but the New Jersey suburbs most assuredly do, mostly in the shadows of the Meadowlands (Moonachie, Carlstadt, and Wood Ridge). If you've eaten at a restaurant in the NY area, it's nearly certain that some/most of your food has spent a bit of time in a warehouse in the Meadowlands...

They're weird, grimy, and occasionally very old, but unlike Willets point, and (to a lesser extent, DC's Florida Ave Market), they're not surrounded by residential areas, and have been (marginally) cared for by their cities. They might not have sidewalks or streetlights, but the running water works, and an asphalt truck seems to make its way though at least once a decade. Sadly, Willets Point and the Florida Market are beyond saving, due to a lack of investment, historic corruption, and the inability to modernize and scale up to compete with newer businesses out in the suburbs. The Florida Market has been in a state of "imminent redevelopment" for almost 25 years, which has prevented any improvement of the existing structures and infrastructure, and created a really terrible status quo.

"New" warehouses and large businesses out in the 'burbs can take advantage of vastly improved economies of scale (which is good), the fact that their workers do not need to be able to walk to work (which is bad), and cheap land (which is a mixed bag).

And, yes. I was priced out of my old home next to the Florida Market. The gentrification whiplash in that neighborhood was insane, even though the area hasn't fully developed yet. At the very least, the developers seem to be making a heroic effort to produce something less bland and sameish than the other new developments in the area... I loved living in the area, and was sad to have to leave.
posted by schmod at 9:46 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]


It just strikes me as a tedious and, frankly, shitty use of one's time here on earth to go around telling other people they shouldn't have reactions to things.

The irony is staggering
posted by Hoopo at 10:18 AM on May 2


the repair jobs won't be in Willets Point anymore, but it's not like the cars they were repairing will stop breaking down. The jobs will exist elsewhere, possibly closer to where the workers and customers are

I'm sorry, but the idea that "there's still demand, so nothing changes!" is bunk. See, for instance, the monthly BLS reports that consistently indicate a national shift toward low-paying retail and temp work. Shifting zoning and other incentives absolutely changes costs and benefits, especially on a local level.

Thanks to the buyouts, some of the repair shops will open elsewhere in the city. A few will even open in nearby Corona and East Elmhurst. But not all the shops will reopen nearby. And, further, not all of them will reopen.

Given that the city is actively discouraging auto repair businesses and rezoning the districts that used to house them (which probably helped concentrate businesses in Willets Point to begin with), three things are likely. First, the diaspora will leave people who depended on the density of businesses (e.g., the lunch lady) to find other plans. Second, not all the businesses will reopoen. And third, some of the businesses that reopen will do so outside of the city, in, say, Nassau County, causing low-income and blue collar workers to pick up stakes and get out of town.

anti-development, upper-class left:
And the anti-development, lower-class left. Blue collar work provided a path to the middle class for my grandparents and dad. The same opportunities that they had to raise a family are eroding within the five boroughs, impacting the demographics of the city.

Randian or not, waving away any and all concerns about lower-income people getting shafted as "Park Slope upper-middle-class latte-swilling liberal guilt" is kind of a dick move.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:34 AM on May 2 [4 favorites]


This whole discussion is pretty much the poster child of the anti-development, upper-class left

I don't think this is actually a thing because the criticism I see from the left about development projects tends to focus on what is being removed and for the benefit of whom? For example, I hate Barclays Center with the fire of a thousand suns, but I would have been totally fine with a development in that location that created a few thousand affordable housing units (without the use of eminent domain).
posted by Mavri at 2:44 PM on May 2


Hoopo: "The irony is staggering"

Okay, how about rephrasing it as "Having reactions to things is not a bad thing. Shitting on people is a bad thing. If you're having a reaction, and that reaction is shitting, you're mixing a not-bad thing and a bad thing. The not-bad doesn't offset the bad, so the net result is bad."

Hopefully that presents the case without internal contradiction.
posted by Bugbread at 5:36 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


if NYC has a food warehouse district

We do! Hunts Point's Food Distribution Center, is home to the New Fulton Fish Market, the Cooperative Market (at least for the time being), and Terminal Produce Market (which recently considered a move to New Jersey).

Previously, we had the Fulton Fish Market, the Meatpacking District, and Washington Market.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:52 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


As far as Willets Point being a neighborhood, looking at a map it is incredibly isolated from the rest of the city. There's no way you would accidentally walk there from any residential area. It is on a "point" of land tucked behind Citi Field, surrounded by the stadium's massive parking lots to the southwest, and fenced off on all other sides by expressways and the Flushing Creek, which separates it from the Flushing commercial area on the other side of the water. In this map of NYC's population density by census tract (scroll all the way down for 2010), it's just included in the same big swath of green that encompasses Flushing Meadows Park.

Just for comparison, Google Maps tells me it would take the same amount of time to drive there from Union Square as it would to drive to Newark (which has more than its fair share of industrial wasteland type areas). I go to Flushing fairly often and on the drive there you can see plenty of industrial areas that look similar (pretty much all the zones marked in white on that population density map on the Brooklyn/Queens border).
posted by pravit at 7:41 PM on May 3


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