Jamaica is nothing if not adaptable to the times.
Immigrants from Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries have since been joined by those from the Caribbean, Latin America and Southern Asia.
Shopping and commercial corridors once dominated by iconic department stores like Mays and Gertz now feature what is touted as the largest destination shopping zone for urban wear in the city, as well as a virtual United Nations of small restaurants and food vendors.
And while many of the country’s jazz and blues legends who lived in places like St. Albans and Addisleigh Park were regularly featured in Jamaica’s nightclubs in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, the neighborhood in more recent times has produced rappers and hip-hop stars such as 50 Cent and Nicki Minaj.
The region also just may have emerged from decades of economic struggling.
And a key was the AirTrain.
As nearby John F. Kennedy International Airport flourished, the city and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey linked it by rail to what was already a large Long Island Rail Road complex on Sutphin Boulevard in Jamaica.
Fast forward and the Jamaica complex now is a massive, modern multilevel transportation hub, a place where subways and buses can connect all of Queens with Manhattan and the world.
Nearly a half-dozen major hotel development and other construction projects are underway at some level near the Jamaica station, with developers committing tens of millions of dollars.
Proving that transportation is not the only attraction, the Long Island-based Blumenfeld Development Group last spring reached an agreement to build a two-story shopping complex on 168th Street that includes a 500-car parking garage.
And, proving that everything old eventually becomes new again, the intention is to attract “a big-box retail store.”
The rise and expansion of hip-hop and rap have not changed Jamaica’s cultural landscape as much as they have augmented other cultural outlets and institutions.
The Jamaica Center for the Performing Arts and the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning create their own productions in music, theater and dance, and offer formal instruction.
Other groups often use their space for training and performances of their own.
King Manor Museum offers a host of concerts, lectures and historic perspectives from the times of Rufus King, the son of a prosperous family who helped frame the U.S. Constitution and was one of the nation’s first vocal leaders in the cause of abolishing slavery.
It offers tours, lectures and classical music concerts.
Even this Saturday, June 21, the museum is hosting a Summer Solstice Festival from noon to 4 p.m. on its grounds in King Park, Admission is free and children in attendance will be shown how to make ice cream the old-fashioned way with a hand-cranked machine.
Just don’t tell the kids that they’re learning; a tactic very similar to one being taken this summer with many of the children’s programs being offered at the Queens Central Library on Merrick Boulevard.
Housing the administration for the entire Queens Library system, the Central building also serves as a local library with offerings for learning, culture and even life-skill improvement.
Sharon Cox, manager of the Children’s Library Discovery Center, said its exhibits, interactive displays and even physical layout are geared toward encouraging children from babies up to 12 years old to learn the so-called STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math.
“And they’ll have fun doing it, Cox said.
The library’s summer reading program, running not only in Jamaica but throughout Queens, is typical.
“It’s called ‘Fizz, Vroom, Read,’ and it’s science-geared,” said Sarah Hinkle, assistant coordinator of children’s services. The program has separate reading lists for children up through 5 years old and those 6 to 12.
Teenagers and young adults going one more door down on the right at the Central Library will find the Teen Center.
Aside from education, the center offers computer access, job-readiness materials and presentations, and even programs like literacy preparedness for those looking to improve their skills for school or the job market, arenas Jamaica’s leaders are always trying to improve.