QUEENS, which became part of New York City in 1898, is the largest of New York's five boroughs, with almost 120 square miles of land, and second largest in population, behind Brooklyn. If Queens were a city, it would be the nation's fourth biggest. But it is known best for its homes - usually row houses, but sometimes duplexes, or single family dwellings.
The challenge for Queens political leaders is to ensure that development does not destroy the housing stock and neighborhoods. With a total housing stock of 753,000 units and a residential setting, Queens is "the community of homes" within the city of New York, says Frank Vardy, a demographer with New York City's department of planning. "Queens has always been the place where people moved to from other boroughs."
Queens has over 50 separate communities, each with distinctive characteristics. "When people move into Queens they are moving into individual neighborhoods," says historian Jeffrey Kroessler. "Queens shows that everything is not over for America's cities, that urban life still works, and that it is good for American business." Lack of empty storefronts along Steinway Street (named after William Steinway, founder of the piano company) is one indication, Mr. Kroessler says.
A number of environmental and public interest groups oppose commercial development because they fear it will destroy the character of the older communities. One group has been protesting the development of a 150,000-square-foot store by the Home Depot chain. But construction continues.