Last week we mentioned that Lawrence and Carol P. Kaplan, authors of Between Ocean and City: The Transformation of Rockaway, New York were taking from readers of the New York Times City Room blog about the history of the once popular seaside resort in southern Queens.
The answers to the questions are now in and you can read them here, here, and here. The questions and answers offer a look at a fascinating chapter on urban development in post-war New York City, the politics of race, and how private interests and a lack of national leadership changed the nature and character of a community.
Not surprisingly many of the questions focused on how a thriving beach community and resort became an area dominated by low-income public housing, crime, and poverty. While some readers put the blame on Robert Moses or the administration of John V. Lindsay, the Kaplans argue that pinning the blame on these two men overlooks the various factors and interests, both public and private, that had a hand in the transformation of Rockaway. While Robert Moses’s ambitious plans for the city necessitated slum clearance and the subsequent shifting of low-income New Yorkers to places like Rockaway, it was the landlords, who turned summer bungalows into year-round (and inadequate residencies) for poorer New Yorkers that contributed to the downturn in Rockaway. Responding to an unsafe housing situation, Lindsay was forced to convert the beachfront property into public housing.
The Kaplans’ answers also remind us that Rockaway, despite its problems, has also been the first neighborhood for recent immigrants who have earned a middle-class existence in the United States and continue to live in the area.