Will de Blasio Spread The Gentrification Love To The Projects?

Rapper Nas gets mural in old Queens ‘hood

By Jeff Vasishta October 14, 2016

Queensbridge Houses is welcoming back a native son, rapper Nas. A new mural depicting the famed MC, who grew up in the housing projects has just been unveiled on the corner of 21st and 40th Avenue. The depiction shows him with the housing apartments in the background and the word, “Queensmatic”, a play on his pivotal 1994 album, Illmatic. The work represents a collaboration between several artists.

Related: I Want To Be Inflated: The Ramones Might Just Be Fueling Gentrification In Queens

A lot has changed in Long Island City (LIC), where Queensbridge Houses are located. The shimmering new high rise condos, escalating rents and new schools are the trapping of recent gentrification in LIC. However, step into Nas’ hulking old projects and it’s like entering a time machine.  The buildings represent the largest public housing development in the USA with more than 3,100 apartments and 7,000 people. Little there has changed since over two decades ago when that hip-hop classic took the world by storm,

The zoning change from commercial to residential saw much of the industry, a source of employment for Queensbridge residents, leave LIC to be replaced by a skyscraper mecca. However, the apartment complex fell just outside the previous rezoning and hopes are that new rezoning will include the massive brick buildings and their inhabitants.

Queensbridge. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

“We have heard the word ‘affordability’ a lot. The fact is, it’s not affordable,” Mary McClary, a member of the activist Justice for All Coalition, (an alliance of about a dozen labor, church, and public housing tenant organizations) told “While it’s beautiful, and the expectations for the change are great, a lot of us are feeling not a part of [it],” she said. “We don’t feel connected to this change.” She added that she was eager to know how future rezoning would affect New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments like Queensbridge Houses. “It can’t remain the same in the midst of opulence.”

The Department of City Planning (DCP) has said that they are onboard with sharing the spoils of LIC’s newfound status as a shiny city across the East River with Queensbridge Houses. DCP hopes to extend bike paths and street-scaping improvements, as well as craft a workforce development plan to help its residents take advantage of emerging job opportunities. It sounds good, but Queensbridge residents have heard it all before.

“The rezonings that took place in Long Island City, in many ways benefited the developer,” said Bernard Callegari, a former Queensbridge Houses resident and field representative at the Greater New York Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust “I hope that this rezoning benefits the people currently [here] as well.”

While Queensbridge residents wait for city officials to spread the economic love of the neighborhood, the mural of “Nasty” Nas shows a love of one of their own. It’s not lost on the rapper, who told hip-hop site, Mass Appeal, “I really appreciate the piece. Peace to the artists who put their all into it. I hope my community always looks at this mural and thinks ‘he’s one of us.’ Because I always will be. We have to be our own heroes. Every one of us has the ability to be that.” No doubt.

Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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