New York City conjures up an image of Manhattan’s skyscrapers, and the great lawns of Central Patk for most people. If you’re somewhat famillar with the city, chances are you’ll know about Brooklyn, and maybe even Queens and the Bronx. But what about the other borough, the fifth one. The one that only has one road connection to the rest of the city. The one that has a big area, yet has the least population of the five boroughs. Seeing Staten Island isn’t on the intinerary for most tourists coming to NYC. It has been called ‘the forgotten borough’ because it seems like the rest of the city doesn’t care about what happens to it. It is the only borough of NYC that voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential elections, and is the only borough that has a Republican borough president. It has no rail connection to the rest of the city, only a ferry to Manhattan from the North Shore of the island. But to properly understand why the boroughs aren’t treated equally, we need some history.
In the late 19th century, Brooklyn, which was at the time an independent city, was consolidated into the City of Greater New York along with parts of Queens and the Bronx. Soon, the city’s borders were almost the same as today. However, much of the newly annexed land was farms and open space. As the subway was constructed, it was to bring people from Manhattan to these areas, and spur development. They became suburbs, and continued developing. At that time, jobs and entertainment were all in Manhattan, so the subway system was built Manhattan-centric. However, these areas continued developing, while the subway system did not change to reflect that. As there was no real way to get from outer borough to outer borough, Manhattan continued to be the center. Today, more people live in Brooklyn than Manhattan. Although the boroughs are supposedly equal, everything is still about Manhattan. It is improving, though. The Regional Plan Association proposed a so-called Triboro subway/commuter rail line starting from Co-Op city in the Bronx and traveling around in a ring through Queens and Brooklyn, with a possible future extension to Staten Island. Today, to get from the Bronx to Queens, you must get on a subway which goes through Manhattan, then out across the East River to Queens. It is a waste of time and can take almost a full hour. The Triboro line can remedy this, reduce travel times, and make New York into a true metropolis. If extended to Staten Island, it could reduce car-dependence, as currently the only land connection to the rest of the city is via the Verrazano-Narrows bridge, on which a congested highway runs.
It is worth mentioning that most of Staten Island is suburban in character. As no subway to it was built, and the only connection to it was the Verrazano bridge, which was built in the age of Robert Moses, the island remained relatively undeveloped for a while. The exception is the North Shore, where the Staten Island ferry arrives, which has a more urban feel. However, the island has felt so underrepresented by the rest of the city that they even held a referendum in 1993, in which almost two-thirds voted to secede. Since then, things have slowly, slowly been improving, so talk of secession has faded away. A new ferry terminal has been built since then. Recently, a large load of new projects have been announced, focused on bringing the island into the future, as part of the 21st century New York City.
Ground has been broken on the New York Wheel, which upon completion will become the largest ferris wheel in the world. Perhaps it will become an icon for the city, sort of in the way the London Eye is famous. It is projected that it will bring about 3 million visitors to the borough each year. That’s a big deal for Staten Island, as it has a population less that 1 million. Near it, thousand of new housing units, some of which are affordable, are being built, along with a waterfront promenade. An old Coast Guard base is being transformed into a mixed-use community. The Empire Outlets, a shopping center with lots of new retail, is being built next to the New York Wheel. Where a landfill was, a new park is being built over it. The park, called the Freshkill Park, will become the second-largest in the city. Much is happening in the borough. Perhaps it will bring positive change. Perhaps it will help make the botough more diverse (it is currently about 75% white).
Staten Island isn’t the only place in the outer boroughs expiriencing a rennasaince. Brooklyn is full of new development. Skyscrapers are rising by the day in Long Island City. A new streetcar will connect Astoria to Sunset Park. Will they make NYC a fairer place? Will they contribute to its troubles? It’s hard to tell. But it’s good to know that the other boroughs are being remembered. The RPA’s Triboro line would be a major breakthrough. The boroughs seem so distinct, yet they are all part of the city. Was merging the cities a mistake? Probably not. It was ambitous at the time, yet we don’t realize it, we owe a lot to the unified city government. For the subway to even be developed to its present state, we needed the city government. Working together, as a city, will be especially important as we face the challenges of the 21st century and beyond. We will need to work together on rising seas and increased vulnerability to natural disasters, or else, there will be no more city.