With Amazon's Arrival, A New York Community Pushes To Be Included Many residents of the Queensbridge public housing complex feel they have not benefited much from the area's booming development. With Amazon, activists are trying to change that story.
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With Amazon's Arrival, A New York Community Pushes To Be Included

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With Amazon's Arrival, A New York Community Pushes To Be Included

With Amazon's Arrival, A New York Community Pushes To Be Included

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

One of Amazon's shiny new headquarters will be located in a part of New York City that has long struggled. It'll be just a few blocks away from Queensbridge Houses, which is the name of the largest public housing complex in North America. So what will that mean for locals? NPR's Jasmine Garsd reports from Queensbridge.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: The Queensbridge public houses are just two subway stops away from bustling Manhattan. But Queensbridge feels like a completely different world. Chris Hanway is the executive director of the Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement, a nonprofit which provides services to the community.

CHRIS HANWAY: Queensbridge has always been literally and psychologically isolated. It's got the river on one side, the bridge on another and then sort of light manufacturing buildings around it.

GARSD: In his seminal 1994 album "Illmatic," New York rapper Nas, who is from Queensbridge, penned an ode to the neighborhood...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MEMORY LANE (SITTIN' IN DA PARK)")

NAS: (Rapping) It's real - grew up a trife life, the times of white lines...

GARSD: ...And the strength of its people.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MEMORY LANE (SITTIN' IN DA PARK)")

NAS: (Rapping) Coming out of Queensbridge - now let me...

GARSD: It didn't take long for big companies to notice how close the neighborhood is to Manhattan. In the last decade or so, Ralph Lauren opened an office nearby, and so did JetBlue. But activists say, for many Queensbridge residents, it's like it never happened. Hanway says unemployment here is high. And that's why when Amazon announced it's setting up shop just a few blocks away...

HANWAY: People literally shrugged their shoulders and said, well, we've been down this road before. It's not really going to affect us in any way - because they've lived this experience.

GARSD: Amazon, which is an NPR sponsor, declined to comment. But the company has promised to fund infrastructure, a school and a tech incubator. It also says it will host job fairs for locals. Chris Hanway has met with Amazon officials and made it clear he wants more concrete promises than that.

HANWAY: What are our goals? How many local residents are we going to hire - into what kind of jobs? How will we get those residents ready for these jobs? And there have to be benchmarks, and Amazon has to be held accountable for that.

GARSD: On a chilly weeknight, I head over to an area near the Queensbridge Houses. It's a lot of warehouses and storage units. But inside one building, I find a software developer training class.

UNIDENTIFIED LECTURER: In other words, you're able to take your data from your app and...

GARSD: The students listening intently to the lecture are mostly Latino, African-American, and there's plenty of women - faces that are scarce in Silicon Valley. The class is part of a nonprofit called Pursuit, which trains low-income adults for tech jobs. Pursuit is also the designated community partner, co-developer and part owner of the new Amazon headquarters. Here's CEO and founder Jukay Hsu.

JUKAY HSU: I think we have a unique opportunity here and for New York to be a place where the technology community can thrive but also be inclusive.

GARSD: Hsu, who was once a classmate of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard University, says he saw how his school friends revolutionized technology. But then he'd come home to his native Queens and wonder about those left behind. He wants to make sure Amazon's new headquarters relies heavily on local talent.

HSU: Amazon, when it's here, can be embedded in Queens. Amazon's coming to Queens, but we want to bring Queens to Amazon.

GARSD: In a lounge area outside the Pursuit lecture room, I meet a 26-year-old new coding student, Ivy Strickland. She's from Harlem. She tells me she's excited about Amazon coming to Queens.

IVY STRICKLAND: I'm the youngest of three children of a single mom. My mom had us when she was a teenager. So imagine me, someone who now makes, like, under $20,000 a year, able to get a job that could pay me enough that I would be able to do certain things, like pay my mom's mortgage or help her out.

GARSD: Although she only recently started coding, she loves it. She says she sees it as a metaphor of how, piece by piece, you can build something amazing.

STRICKLAND: To see the way that you can take something so small and grow, I guess for me personally, to know where I've come from, it's like the same thing. I can see myself growing.

GARSD: Whether or not this city and this neighborhood will be able to grow and build something good with Amazon remains to be seen. For the time being, there's hope, a good measure of distrust and plenty of that legendary Queens strength.

Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, Queens.

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