By Sarina Trangle
As the borough president sees it, Queens’ future lies in its heritage.
Borough President Melinda Katz released her 2014 policy statement last week, highlighting efforts to harness Queens’ diversity via tourism and the hospitality industry while working to accommodate growing and changing communities.
“We’ve been branding Queens as the world’s borough the last nine months, and the strategic plan puts forth the things that need to happen in order to achieve that goal,” Katz said. “Our culture and our arts come from all that diversity. Our economic development is dependent upon all of that.”
Her policy report notes road signs welcoming passersby to the borough now include the slogan “Queens — The World’s Borough” and several partners are promoting the branding message, “If you haven’t visited Queens, you haven’t visited New York city.”
She described Queens, now about 48 percent foreign-born and which has residents from more than 120 countries, as having less-crowded restaurants, hotels and cultural institutions that rival Manhattan’s.
And Katz did not seem to view the borough’s hotel offerings and public transportation system as obstacles to attracting visitors.
The policy statement emphasized that Queens gets the lowest amount of cultural institution funding per capita than the other boroughs, taking in about $1.34 per person from the city’s Cultural Development Fund, compared to Manhattan’s $12 per person.
The Queens City Council delegation loses its fight for more money every budget season because Manhattan is perceived as having the monopoly on tourist attractions, according to Katz.
She argued that attracting more travelers would help Queens secure more city money.
Katz said creating more affordable housing, particularly for seniors seeking to stay close to grandchildren they baby-sit, remains a priority. Although the “overwhelming majority” of the borough’s housing is privately owned, Katz said Queens may be able to construct cheaper units on vacant land, atop the Sunnyside Yards or by converting long-unused properties zoned for manufacturing uses to residential districts.
Katz said the city should consider creating a new zoning district for basement apartments, which she said present a serious hazard in many communities.
Her nearly 130-page policy report notes that Queens encounters tensions over feelings of displacement provoked by changing demographics.
But she believes issues usually arise not out of prejudices to newcomers’ background, but rather to the number of people who tend to come when an enclave begins to grow.
Katz said she has a monthly assembly comprised of leaders of every ethnicity to discuss such issues, and that her commitment to re-examining zoning may also help.
The borough president’s other priorities include getting more seats for pre-kindergarten and public schools, hastening hurricane recovery work and creating a new police precinct in eastern Queens.
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.