Hollis Revisited

At the beginning of the semester, I visited Hollis, Queens.  While I knew that it was a low-income neighborhood, I did not understand what caused the poverty here to persist.  After taking this course, I have much more clarity on the subjects of poverty, segregation, and inequity.  I also have more questions.

In my original post, I saw that there were “bars on store windows,” which I now know is an example of the militarization of public space.  Rather than a public place, the storefront mimics a prison cell.  I also noted that “the streets were noisy.”  People were yelling to each other, and there were often police sirens blaring.  The weekend that I visited, there was a bank robbery in the neighborhood.  These instances are likely effects of the limited life chances that are provided for those in low-income neighborhoods; the robbery and constant police sirens are examples of a lack of safety.  Additionally, there is a women’s shelter in the same neighborhood.  It is certainly contradictory: a place that is supposed to be safe is housed in a neighborhood littered with crime.

At the end of my first post, I added that Hollis was in close proximity to Jamaica Estates, which is a wealthy neighborhood right across Jamaica Avenue.  This was just a mere observation at the time, but I realize now that this is a prime example of residential segregation.  On one side of Jamaica Avenue, there is affluence.  The communities are gated, the streets are clean, and the population is predominately white.  I remember that the homes are not close to the sidewalks; there is usually a lot of land between the street and the actual house.  This is a more subtle design of segregation–it further separates the rich from the poor.  Although I am not an expert on Hollis’ history, it is probably segregated because of mechanisms such as racial steering and restrictive covenants, all designed to keep out people of color.

Safety and crime play a bigger role in the lives of Hollis residents than I initially realized.  I stated that at the Laundromat, “people were protective of the dryers that they were using and watched them diligently…it was obvious that people were concerned about their clothes being stolen.”  What I did not mention was that they were concerned because many of them probably been victims of theft.  The Laundromat even has a sign stating that the staff is not responsible for any stolen items. Those living on a low income may not be able to afford new clothes if theirs get stolen.  This was not paranoia or taking precautions at one specific place–these people live in fear of being robbed wherever they go in the town.  Besides reliving the trauma that comes with such a terrifying experience, the residents of Hollis may not have insurance or money to buy any stolen items, especially because the income gap often results in insurance companies refusing coverage or charging higher premiums for those in low-income neighborhoods.

Hollis has not been gentrified–yet.  There are still mom and pop shops lining the streets, but every once in awhile, a major corporation builds there.  A TD Bank is on one corner, and a Dunkin Donuts recently opened as well.  While this may just be a coincidence, it is following the trends of other gentrified areas of New York City.  Perhaps the town will undergo “urban renewal” and residents of Jamaica Estates will want luxury apartment buildings where dilapidated ones currently stand.  This exemplifies luxury growth strategy.  If Hollis begins gentrifying, not only will residents fear theft, they may also be facing displacement or homelessness.

 

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