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Queens Chronicle

17th Annual Celebration of Queens IN JACKSON HEIGHTS, ACCEPTANCE

The neighborhood that became a melting pot within a melting pot

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Posted: Wednesday, June 18, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 10:58 am, Wed Jun 18, 2014.

It is no secret that Queens is one of the most diverse areas in the country and Jackson Heights is a testament to that.

“If you go down there, that’s called Little Bangladesh,” longtime resident and Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said. “Then the next street, that’s little India.”

The area is a melting pot, a busy one at that.

People from all over the world and of all economic backgrounds live within the many apartment buildings that make up Jackson Heights.

The neighborhood has two main veins — Roosevelt Avenue and 37th Avenue. Each is very different from the other. Roosevelt as a whole was considered one of the more dangerous corridors and in Jackson Heights, it was a popular spot for selling cocaine in the 1980s and ’90s. It is now targeted for improvements and has drastically changed for the better over the years

Safety on 37th has had its ups and downs but aesthetically, it’s a more open and brighter area — Roosevelt Avenue is shadowed by the No. 7 elevated line.

“This used to be the coke capital of Queens,” Dromm, who moved to Jackson Heights in the 1970s after coming out of the closet. “There was a lot of drugs but this was also the first place I came to where being gay wasn’t uncommon. There were a few gay clubs around and a lot of people from the LGBT community hang around here.”

The reason for the influx among the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Dromm believes, is its proximity to Manhattan and access to public transportation.

For many neighborhoods, those same factors have resulted in the “hipster takeover” where young, creative professionals move into rougher areas and gentrify them.

This has become especially true in the Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant parts of Brooklyn, and the Long Island City part of Queens.

But for Jackson Heights, that hasn’t happened, at least not yet. The neighborhood is still quite diverse and has one of the largest LGBT communities in the city.

“In Jackson Heights, you have a mixture of rent-regulated and other apartments, which I think has helped keep a lot of the families and people here,” Dromm said. “There have been changes, the number of immigrants who live here has gone up and yet there remains this core of people who stay.”

The councilman said his favorite trait of Jackson Heights is the acceptance.

The community hosts many cultural parades, including the popular Ecuadorian and LGBT Pride parades.

Thousands of people line 37th Avenue and wave flags to celebrate diversity.

In addition to the scores of cultural events, by walking around the community a visitor can see that the denseness of Jackson Heights forces residents to interact with one another in a way those in more suburban areas of Queens may not have to.

For example, in the historic district of Jackson Heights, just off 37th Avenue, where Dromm lives, there are a handful of gardens, surrounded by the brick-layered buildings.

In the 1980s and ’90s, many of the gardens were left to overgrow and become ridden with weeds.

Recently, residents banded together to revitalize the green spaces and now the gardens have become micro-oases for an area where greenery is not easy to come by.

“The people who live in the apartments are responsible for maintaining this,” Dromm said, walking through the garden attached to his own building. “People take their own plot of land and garden on it and keep it nice.”

While the gardens provide a sense of peace for the residents of the historic district, a majority of Jackson Heights does not have access to them.

As a result, Dromm, the Parks Department and advocacy groups came together in recent years to bring plazas to the area.

The newest and most well-known is Diversity Plaza, which sits in between 37th and Roosevelt avenues, just off 75th Street.

“We wanted a space where people could come together and have events because Jackson Heights has no cultural facilities,” Dromm said.

Last year, Community Board 3 held the first outdoor board meeting at Diversity Plaza, and the space has become a popular location for cultural fairs and special events.

In addition, the neighborhood was granted another space on 78th Street between 34th Avenue and Northern Boulevard for a plaza.

Dromm is looking to make both spaces more green and is looking to integrate the 78th Street plaza into the neighboring Travers Park, so that kids would have a place to play after school and during the summer.

Already the area hosts weekend tennis lessons and yoga and Zumba classes.

“The more I stay here, the less I find reason to need to leave Jackson Heights,” Dromm said. “There’s small businesses, nice apartments and great food.”

Welcome to the discussion.