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Photo via Flickr/NYCUrbanScape
Photo via Flickr/NYCUrbanScape
Photo of housing rooftops in Jamaica, Queens.

Jamaica is on track to be a thriving downtown hub of hospitality, retail and housing development by 2040, according to a newly released regional plan with ambitious recommendations for making the neighborhood more prosperous.

The nearly 400-page report, created as part of the Regional Plan Association (RPA) Fourth Regional Plan released in December, covers everything from transportation and regional job restoration to affordable housing and protecting low-income residents from displacement.

While drafting the report, the RPA communicated with the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC), which works to expand the economy in the downtown Jamaica area.

“RPA’s recommendations dovetail with GJDC’s mission and provides validation from a highly respected organization that our economic development efforts with the public and private sectors are headed in the right direction,” said Hope Knight, president and CEO of GJDC.

The part of the RPA plan centered around Jamaica is its relationship with John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK), stating that the two must grow and develop in tandem. The plan recommends significant improvement to JFK, including two additional runways, larger and more customer-friendly terminals and significantly better transit access. By 2040, air passenger travel demand could increase by 60 percent, the plan states, a demand that could not be met without expansion of the airport.

To coincide with the growth of the airport, the plan recommends that downtown Jamaica add more hotels and hospitality services allowing more room for the airport’s expansion. The plan also states the importance of preserving and restoring parts of Jamaica Bay that could be affected during construction. In total, the proposed expansion would cost $21 billion, the report says, which would likely be funded by Port Authority airport revenues from airline fees and passenger facility charges.

Knight described the RPA’s plan as a platform for the GJDC to continue its mission and “act as an advocate and resource to developers to advance this type of activity.” 

With growth and development comes the need to address other forms of public transportation. The RPA plan lists several recommendations for improving the quality of the city’s subway stations, including making all stations ADA-accessible and reducing crowding, noise and heat in stations. The plan also describes how the construction of new subway lines and the adoption of new technologies would improve overall service.

One of the plan’s most ambitious recommendations is to combine the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Railroad and New Jersey Transit into one unified system called the Trans-Regional Express, or T-REX.

The transportation upgrades would allow for less cars in the streets of Jamaica, which has typically been an area reliant on cars in the past. The plan makes a number of suggestions for placing more priority over people instead of cars in city streets, a transition that has already begun, Knight said.

“The data suggests that car ownership is going down,” Knight said. “We’re seeing that trend with more Zip-Car usage, and parking lot usage is in decline over time.”

Naturally, if the area will continue to thrive there will be a growing need for affordable housing to prevent the displacement of local residents. The plan addresses this need, too, touting “inclusionary zoning” as the main tool for addressing housing segregation while creating more affordable homes.

Knight said that Jamaica has been working on mixed-income developments in connection to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan for affordable housing. The plan also lists the key factors in preventing displacement are ending homelessness, providing free legal counsel to those most at risk, fixing rent-regulation issues and investing in public housing.

While many of the RPA recommendations apply to the entire city, not just Jamaica, local residents can contribute to the future success of the neighborhood.

“The general public can focus on supporting local retail and businesses, and new businesses if they come online,” Knight said. “That provides market validation to attract more diverse retail in the community.”

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