What Ever Happened to Arverne East?
Everyone in Far Rockaway is familiar with the spread of undeveloped, neglected beachfront land that spans from Beach 32nd Street to Beach 56th Street. Known as “Arverne East”, the land has a storied past and an uncertain future. What was once a popular summertime destination and home to many year-round residents, has now become a visual reminder of what could have been. The stretch of land was developed in the late 1800s and catered to the beachgoing summer crowd. However, many neighborhood hotels burned down between the turn of the century and the mid-1900s, causing the area to fall into disarray. In 1965, Arverne East was designated as an urban renewal area and the city envisioned the site regaining its former glory as a summertime oasis, attracting year-round local and regional tourists. The reimagining also included plans for 6,500 apartment units, 1,500 of which would be designated for low income residents. The land was razed four years later, yet the grand plans fell through and the land was abandoned.
Fast forward to the 21st century and once again, the development of Arverne East was on the forefront of discussions across the city. Plans for redevelopment in the mid-2000s were halted by the housing market crash, and similarly, Hurricane Sandy put a pause on any development in the mid-2010s. Both periods, however, envisioned grand plans for Arverne East. New plans focused on creating and keeping jobs in the community and wanted to deter gentrification in the area. Businesses would be encouraged to own their own storefronts, as opposed to leasing them, which would ensure they would not be pushed out due to rising rents. There were also plans for a large nature preserve that would provide jobs for residents as well as protect the land from future storms.
While there is no shortage of feasible ideas for the land, lack of funding and concerns about the area’s resilience against storms continue to be critical blows to any attempt at redevelopment. Today, the land is still vacant, with little hope for development soon. The lack of development in Arverne East seems to be in direct opposition to Mayor De Blasio’s pledge to preserve or create 200,000 units of affordable housing. However, the lack of development might be the only way for longtime residents to avoid rising rents, changing demographics, and forgotten culture; all signs of gentrification that go hand in hand with the “revitalization” of black and brown neighborhoods.