Oct. 17, 2019 By Allie Griffin
A new book was released earlier this month on the history of the Queensbridge Houses, the country’s largest public housing complex located in Long Island City.
Voices of Queensbridge: Stories from the Nation’s Largest Public Housing Development, published by LaGuardia Community College and Wagner Archives, explores the history of Queensbridge and the lives of people who call it home.
The book provides a timeline and history of the Queensbridge Houses, including summaries of its origins, demographic changes, crime levels, community and gentrification’s impact.
Queensbridge Houses has 3,142 apartments and nearly 7,000 residents, making it the largest public housing development in North America.
The development opened in 1939 next to the Queensboro Bridge along the East River in what was at the time a largely manufacturing area. Its construction began a year earlier in 1938 after Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia launched the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) four years earlier.
The book also illustrates the development’s history through first-person accounts from the people who know it best, its tenants. Students at LaGuardia Community College interviewed 18 long-time senior residents on topics like family history, crime and safety, police relations, maintenance, gentrification, demographic change and race, tenant activism, community and the senior center.
The publication was celebrated at a recent gathering that included LaGuardia faculty, Queensbridge Houses residents and representatives of the nonprofit Jacob A Riis Neighborhood Settlement, which has a senior center for residents.
“This project is about what it means to be a New Yorker. It’s about expanding and strengthening our community,” said Molly Rosner, Ph.D., assistant director of education programs for Wagner Archives, who co-edited the book. “The students learned to connect with neighbors because that’s what makes a city feel like home.”
The students who collected residents’ oral histories came from a variety of backgrounds. Some had lived in public housing themselves, while others had no prior experience with it. They began the oral history project in fall 2018 and through it, they connected with residents.
“This project challenges the preconceived notions of public housing and the people who live there,” said student and interviewer Amanda Jones in a statement.
“My fellow students and I didn’t just watch and listen to the residents of Queensbridge, we interacted with them, and in doing so, realized that despite having different backgrounds, we share many commonalities. We related to one each other’s struggles.”
Voices of Queensbridge is available to view and download for free on the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives shared website.