Oct. 18, 2023 By Bill Parry
Long Island City is riding the wave of economic strength bolstered by more than 103% job growth since the pandemic began in 2020 in a neighborhood that has seen a 40% growth rate in the last ten years, more than five times the growth rate for New York City as a whole.
With such explosive growth, hundreds of business leaders, city leaders and elected officials gathered at The Museum of the Moving Image on Oct. 17 for the Long Island City Partnership’s annual LIC Summit focused around the rapidly-growing and economically-vital waterfront community while also addressing foreseeable hurdles in the future.
“We were thrilled to feature a great lineup of speakers to address the monumental growth that Long Island City has seen over the past decade including an influx of new residents, businesses, world-class retail, and a burgeoning life sciences sector,” said Laura Rothrock, President of Long Island City Partnership. “We look forward to working with our private and public sector partners on the limitless opportunities and the challenges associated with them, as we grow our live-work-play-learn destination as New York City’s fastest growing and dynamic neighborhood.”
One significant challenge that resonated throughout the LIC Summit included Long Island City’s aging infrastructure below its streets with the overwhelming majority of the neighborhood’s water and sewer mains more than 50 years old and not built to withstand the tremendous growth and density of today. Public dollars to upgrade the city’s underground infrastructure in Long Island City were allocated in the city’s 10-year capital plan five years ago, but it remains unfunded at a time when buildings and businesses in the neighborhood continue to see significant flooding even during mild storm events.
“As Long Island City continues to grow at a rapid pace, we must focus our future investments, development, and infrastructure improvements with an inclusive outlook and make sure we’re listening to all voices of this diverse community throughout the process,” Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said during the Keynote Panel. “We’re also seeing a real impact on climate change as a neighborhood on the waterfront. We must go beyond responding to storms when they arrive but fortify Long Island City’s resilience from the ground up – starting from the underground pipes, sewage, schools, street safety and beyond.”
Council Member Julie Won discussed a possible rezoning of the industrial waterfront during the “Sustainability and Resiliency” panel, noting that the neighborhood has already gone through several studies and rezonings to accommodate the vibrant waterfront community. She continues to focus on the impacts of climate change and the critical need for upgraded infrastructure.
“We’ve tragically lost lives during recent major storms, particularly in working class communities in Queens, due to lack of flood mitigation plans, communication and resources. Queens also has the least amount of sewage and water mains compared to all other boroughs and that’s why we’ve seen pervasive flooding. The goal is to make sure we’re getting as much funding as possible to ensure we are upgrading our sewage infrastructure that was built for a much smaller population, including areas like Long Island City, that have had an immense amount of growth.”
During the “Public Spaces and Public Realm” panel, the participants addressed other challenges facing the neighborhood and its residents, including how to make the most out of the City’s public spaces, including plazas, sidewalks, parks, and streets in Long Island City and the surrounding areas, the future of outdoor dining structures that helped keep many LIC restaurants afloat during and post-pandemic and the importance of bureaucracy meeting the new calls to action from the private sector.
“Something that really changed post-pandemic is that the discussion regarding livability and the use of public spaces has really shifted, and the public sector, including restaurants and BIDs, is pushing that energy and advocating for it,” NYC Chief Public Realm Officer Ya-Ting Liu said. “My role inside City government is to make sure that the bureaucracy does not fall back into the comfortable and known and instead meets the clear demands of the public as well as private sector.”
New York’s hometown airline, JetBlue, chose to keep its corporate headquarters in Long Island City in 2021 instead of relocating to Florida. Justin Ginsburgh, JetBlue’s managing director of infrastructure revealed that many of the air carrier’s frontline workers, including pilots and flight attendants, live in Florida and commute by plane because they can’t afford housing in Queens.
“We frankly have a really hard time recruiting people to come work for us in New York City on the managerial level or people in our support center,” Ginsburg said. “They get the job, they’re thrilled to work for JetBlue and they come here and look for housing and get scared away. We love Long Island City, but there is a lot of opportunity to improve the neighborhood.”
He mentioned the public realm issue.
“There really is no where for a JetBlue member in our support center to go out and have a sandwich and sit at a table outside,” he said.
It is the type of quality of life issue that will be studied at length under Won’s recently announced Long Island City Neighborhood Study, a process that will allow her constituents to chime in with their vision for new housing, jobs, and investments in their neighborhood, such as public transit, affordable housing, open space, an much-needed sewer infrastructure.
“When you stand on the Queensborough Bridge, when you look to your right you see Hunters Point, the beauty of the high skyscrapers and the beautiful Gantry Park, then you look to your left and you see the largest public housing unit in the entire country,” Won said during the “Sustainability and Resiliency” panel. “We’re making sure that we’re building one Long Island City, connecting Hunters Point through Anable Basin, the Industrial Business Zone to the Queensbridge Houses, making sure we have a connected greenway along the waterfront so that everyone has access, no matter what their income is.”
Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane.