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A young woman celebrates her fifteenth birthday on the waterfront in Queens
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A young woman celebrates her fifteenth birthday on the waterfront in Queens
Credit: KUOW Photo/ Joshua McNichols

A walking tour of Amazon's future New York neighborhood

When Google moved to New York, it went to Manhattan, like most tourists do.

Amazon took a different route. It set up shop across the river, in a neighborhood called Long Island City, in Queens.

KUOW’s Joshua McNichols went to check it out.

My guide is Jack Eichenbaum, a geography expert who gives tours around New York. He taught at the University of Washington in the 1970s, but he returned to Queens, which he loves. He calls it "the real New York."

We start at the Court Square Diner, a tiny jewel box of a restaurant from 1946 full of chrome and coconut cream pies.

The Court Square Diner in Queens
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The Court Square Diner in Queens
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

The restaurant is tucked underneath an elevated train line. It's one of several trains that rumble through the neighborhood.

Court Square Diner, Queens, New York
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Court Square Diner, Queens, New York
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols
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After we finish eating, we head towards Amazon’s future campus. It could eventually cover 4-8 million square feet.

On the way, Eichenbaum points out some old industrial buildings from the early 20th Century. They’re being replaced by condos and apartments.

“Why should we care about old industrial buildings being torn down?” I asked him.

“Well, some people may see it as progress," he said. "It’s housing for people who can afford it.”

Plaxall properties. Those on the right will go to Amazon. In the distance, the Chrysler building in Manhattan is visible.
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Plaxall properties. Those on the right will go to Amazon. In the distance, the Chrysler building in Manhattan is visible.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols
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We pass an old factory that used to manufacture plastics. It’s one of many buildings in the area Amazon will soon take over.

There’s an art gallery inside now. The gallery’s manager is Norma Homberg.

Norma Homberg and Aurora at the Plaxall Gallery, run by Long Island City Artists
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Norma Homberg and Aurora at the Plaxall Gallery, run by Long Island City Artists
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

She said the old plastics company was a patron of the arts. They encouraged artists to try making art out of plastic, on the company’s specialized equipment.

“They have an art show every year, where they invite 10 artists," she said. "It’s called Plastique.”

Homberg said other groups share the space, too: a PTA, a local theater company, an alcoholics anonymous group. She worries that Amazon won’t support the community in the same way.

“I do believe they want to work with us further," she said. "So I’m trying to stay positive.”

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This warehouse sits on Amazon's future campus in Long Island City.
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This warehouse sits on Amazon's future campus in Long Island City.
Credit: KUOW/Joshua McNichols

Amazon will bring a fresh wave of development to this neighborhood, but it’s not the first time people here have seen this. New York officials have been trying to turn this into a little downtown for years.

Citibank had a tower here, which Amazon will soon move into. And while more development may be bad for artists, it could be good for other kinds of businesses.

Myo Lin Thwey hopes he can make a good living selling Burmese food to Amazon workers on the street. Behind him: the Citibank tower in Long Island City. Eventually it will be filled with Amazon workers.
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Myo Lin Thwey hopes he can make a good living selling Burmese food to Amazon workers on the street. Behind him: the Citibank tower in Long Island City. Eventually it will be filled with Amazon workers.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Myo Lin Thwey has been selling Burmese food on the street to the workers at the Citibank tower. He has room for just a small selection of foods in his cart.

“My favorite is chicken curry palata," he said. "It is a little bit messy to eat, so most people avoid it for that reason. But it’s so delicious. You should try it.”

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He’s sad to lose his Citibank customers. But he’d be happy to serve lunch to Amazon workers. 

“The good thing is they’re going to be well-paid people," he said. "So they are going to have money to spend. Hopefully they won’t bring a lot of lunchboxes from their home.”

Jack Eichenbaum in Long Island City. Eichenbaum says the first wave of development here brought some good amenities, like this boardwalk.
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Jack Eichenbaum in Long Island City. Eichenbaum says the first wave of development here brought some good amenities, like this boardwalk.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Long Island City has been changing for years. But this project is something new.

“It’s going to be a lot at once,” said my tour guide Eichenbaum.

Amazon could change this place on a scale and at a pace that makes it hard to plan.

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