Why Does it Matter?

Rockaway Beach, once a bustling summer destination for middle class New Yorkers, fell into decline when cars, new roads, and improved train service, made the beaches of Long Island more accessible. Robert Moses, New York City’s “master builder”, envisioned turning Rockaway’s summer resorts into year-round residential communities.

After WWII, Rockaway was essentially turned into a “dumping ground” for the city’s poor. In the 1950s, large housing projects for low-income residents and returning veterans were erected in the Rockaways. Initially, there was a strict screening process to get into Rockaway’s new projects. However, over time, those with steady incomes were encouraged to leave to make room for residents on public assistance. The Rockways’ distant location made it a convenient place for the city to place its neediest and most troubled families and individuals. The projects were soon joined by facilities for deinstitutionalized mental patients and nursing homes.

In recent years, Rockaway Beach has gained a resurgence in popularity for summer visitors. But who stays there during the rest of the year?

It turns out, Rockaway Beach is home to the some of the city’s most vulnerable populations. No doubt the Rockaways is home to very wealthy residents, particularly towards the peninsula’s western side. To give you an idea, the eastern end of Rockaway has a minority population of 98%, at the western end, that number drops to 0.2%. So its no coincidence that the train stops at 116th street while the western end of the peninsula stretches all the way to 169th street. However, getting off the peninsula poses a greater challenge to local residents, particularly those who don’t own cars.

Walking through Rockaway beach, I could occasionally still see the lingering effects of hurricane Sandy. Houses with crooked balcony railings, abandoned houses with their windows boarded shut, dangling power lines. More than four years after Sandy, it seems that most Rockaway residents have resumed their lives. But what about those who didn’t or couldn’t rebuild? Where are the people that used to live in those now abandoned houses?

For some Rockaway residents, the Sandy’s impact was not limited to the physical destruction it caused. Many residents continue to battle with the lingering psychological effects of Sandy. For some youth, Sandy meant one more year of college due to missed deadlines or inevitable drop-outs due to an inability to get to classes in Manhattan when the area’s only subway line shut down for nearly a month after Sandy.

Some argue that year-long housing should have never been built on Rockaway in the first place. With little in the way between the Atlantic Ocean and Rockaway’s residents, the Rockaways are the first frontier when disaster hits. While those with cars may be able to evacuate during times of crises, the most vulnerable residents who depend on public transportation are left to fend for themselves.

Taking inspiration from Kim Stringfellow’s work on the Salton Sea, which aims to bring awareness to the area’s ecological issues through multimedia exploration, I hope to remind my audience that Rockaway Beach is more than just a summer destination for city residents. By documenting the continued transportation and infrastructure challenges faced by Rockaway residents through images, sounds, and video, I hope to expose the lingering effects of discriminatory city planning, as well as the imminent effects of climate change on Rockaway Beach.

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~ by stanleyzuo95 on March 27, 2017.

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