What makes a city or town appealing? Is it the people who live in the area, the residents who imbue their surroundings with different cultural influences? Is it the geography of the place, the nearness to or separation from a major metropolitan area? Could it be the arts scene? The economy? What about cost of living? When people look at a city and its neighborhoods, whether they're considering a location to start a new business or the perfect place to raise a family, it's important to ask all of these questions.
But whether you're interested in a bustling center of industry, an arts hub, a geographically appealing place on the planet or a good, old-fashioned hometown, you might have heard some of the buzz about Long Island City - it's getting its fair share these days. New York magazine has raved about all the fabulous restaurants proliferating across the neighborhood, the New York City Marathon passed right through Long Island City this year, and development is flourishing on the shoreline facing Midtown Manhattan across the East River. With the arts scene bursting at the seams as well and a surprisingly low cost of living, a lot of people are taking a closer look at this waterfront city in Queens.
In the mid 1800s, the North Fork Line of the LIRR became linked with Hunter's Point, the southern tip of Long Island City. By 1870, Long Island City encompassed the communities of Astoria, Hunters Point, Blissville, Ravenswood, Dutch Kills and Bowery Bay.
Of course, back in the 1800s, railroads meant big business and made the difference in the future of any populated place. If you were linked to the railroad, you were a city-on-the-verge - if not, welcome to Snoozeville. Not only did the LIRR make Long Island City a stop on its route, ferry service began, too, carting people and goods to and from Long Island City to 34th and Wall Streets in Manhattan. In 1908, the Queensboro Bridge was erected, followed by Penn Station in 1910. By 1940, the Triboro Bridge was finished and on top of that, the Queens Midtown Tunnel was up and running too.
What did all this construction and development mean? For Queens and Long Island City, it meant a lot. Business flooded into the area, which was less expensive (and more expansive) than Manhattan or even Brooklyn at the time. Since Long Island City was next door to Sunnyside Rail Yards, a lot of industrial buildings were built and manufacturing in Long Island City became a hub.
Those were the good old days. In the post-war years and into the 1970s, however, many of the industrial and manufacturing jobs in the city were moved out of the country - and the booming development of Long Island City came to a standstill.
Well, almost. What do you get when you cross empty warehouses with cheap rent and little to no gentrification? Heaven for artists. Often the first group of people to recognize a good deal when they see it, artists of all descriptions swarmed into Long Island City and built studios, parks and galleries in this under-developed, inexpensive area within spitting distance of Midtown Manhattan. The names of those who started out in Long Island City in the 1980s and after are legendary: Mark di Suvero created the city's largest outdoor exhibition space, called the Socrates Sculpture Park, named by the Village Voice as "Best Sculpture Park," in 2001. Isamu Noguchi's artwork can be seen in the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, a breathtakingly beautiful museum built around Noguchi's studio.
If you're more interested in movies than paintings or sculpture, there's a little Hollywood in Long Island City, too. In the 1980s, the old Silvercup Bakery was turned into Silvercup Studios - the largest film and television production center in the city. Sex in the City and The Sopranos are both filmed right in the heart of Long Island City. The P.S. 1 Arts Complex is nearby, too, in a rehabbed facility owned by MoMA, and while the Museum of Modern Art's Manhattan home is being rehabbed, there's MoMAQns, the museum's temporary digs in an old stapler factory right here in Long Island City. Not a bad resume for a so-called "outer borough."
The arts scene in Long Island City keeps growing at a rapid rate, which is good for the community and for the city as a whole - arts are an essential element of a healthy neighborhood. Of course, there are plenty of other reasons to consider this Nassau County gem as a place to live, work or simply visit, including business opportunities and quality of life.
The Nassau County Department of Parks, Recreation and Museums offers all kinds of information about the dozens of attractions in Long Island City and surrounding area. Eisenhower Park offers its International Nights series every year, showcasing the uniqueness of the area's various cultures and the Bethpage Restoration Village produces the Long Island Fair, where visitors can get a taste of what a fair might have looked like a hundred years ago. There are ball games galore and special events for kids and seniors, plus a number of nature preserves one can explore, all of which can be learned of by calling the parks department at 516-572-0221.
With a population of around 150,000 out of a total Queens population of 2 million, and encompassing culturally and architecturally rich neighborhoods like Astoria and Ravenswood, Long Island City has enough residents to be a major force both socially and economically in the New York area, but is still small enough to feel like a real hometown.
Perhaps that's why a lot of New Yorkers are choosing to live in this area and commute into Manhattan for work. Not all of them have to do that, however, as the economy of Long Island City is more than established. Along with independent businesses like the New York Times-lauded Tom Cat Bakery, grocery delivery service FreshDirect, and dozens of maintenance and service businesses, big companies have found a home, too - Citigroup has a new building in Long Island City, and one can find the Trane offices at Court Square and the MetLife building at Queens Plaza.
As for dining and shopping, you're in for a treat in Long Island City. If you're looking for Mediterranean fare with a twist, try whimsical CafÃ© Bar on 36th Street. If Italian is more your style, stop by Manducati's - nearby MoMa's Glen Lowry says, "If you've never eaten at Manducati's, you've never had Italian food in the city." Between the health food cafes and the increasingly hip cocktail bars popping up everywhere, you'll never be hungry or thirsty in this neighborhood and will most likely find exactly what you crave.
According to Michael Dempkiw, a broker with Long Island City's Horizon Realty, since the influx of artists over the past couple of decades, many young families have put down roots - and purchased homes - in Long Island City. "There are lots of families," says Dempkiw, "but in the last two years or so, it's slowly turning into a place for young professionals. There's a lot of nightlife coming in - cafes, and little nightclubs."
And the area is changing more and more all the time, Dempkiw continues, "There's so much construction going on - we've got a lot more stores now, and better stores. And it seems like there's a bank on every corner now."
According to area brokers, the bulk of the current housing market in Long Island City is solid, if a little uncertain. Dempkiw says that a single family home - of which there are very few in Long Island City - will cost a prospective buyer somewhere in the neighborhood of $400,000. By contrast, to rent a two- or three-bedroom apartment in a co-op or condo building, might run around $2,000 a month. Not pocket change, but a giveaway by Manhattan standards.
As for co-ops and condos themselves, Dempkiw says that a year ago, demand was relatively weak. "But now, we get many calls every day, people asking for co-op and condo information."
Purchase prices in Long Island City are on the rise, thanks to successive waves of gentrification and bloated prices in Manhattan, but - as with rents - the numbers pale in comparison to what's asked for comparable spaces in even the less-desirable Manhattan neighborhoods. Studio and one-bedroom apartments in co-op or condo buildings started around $65,000 in 2003, and topped out around $225,000. Two-bedrooms went for between $120,000 and $400,000, and entire townhouses could be had for somewhere in the neighborhood of $400,000 to $750,000. Considering that smaller spaces on Manhattan's Upper East or Upper West Sides routinely sell for twice those prices, it's no wonder more people are opting for the 20-minute train commute and keeping more of their hard-earned money.
But as always, the numbers, the market, and the neighborhood demographics all depend on the economy. "If the market is weak," says Dempkiw, "you see more people moving into Manhattan, because they can afford to. If not, they move out to the other areas. It's a slow growth, and Long Island City is an old neighborhood, so it's a slow process, but money is coming in and there's a lot of restoration going on. It's hard to say what will happen, but the zoning is being relaxed, so lots of restructuring and construction is going on. Every day you see a new house being built."