As Mayor Bloomberg moves forward with an eco-friendly redevelopment for the crumbling Willets Point neighborhood, locals feel pushed aside and complain that eminent domain is out of control.
The pavement surrounding J and L Auto, at the corner of 36th Ave. and Willets Point Blvd., is split open into dozens of fist-sized fractures, exposing the remains of the worn cobblestone underneath. It is a reminder of the storied history of this neighborhood, which sits west of the Flushing River, under the shadow of Citi Field, the future stadium of the New York Mets. It's also a testament to decades of systemic neglect, both from the city and the mechanics and auto body specialists who work here.
"Hollowed-out wrecks line Willets Point, and industrial runoff spills freely into large, muddy puddles. There are no sidewalks in the 'Calcutta of New York,' as it is locally known. There is no sewer system. Shops are packed shoulder to shoulder along the streets, topped by corrugated metal, emblazoned with bright yellow and red signs, and filled with employees who wander out occasionally into the sunlight to offer 'the very lowest price.'
'People forget – Willets Point isn't a town,' says Andrew Wiedhopf, a longtime employee of J and L Auto. 'It isn't a city. It's just one, enormous, ugly junkyard.'
It's also, Mr. Wiedhopf concedes, a battleground, although – like most mechanics operating in the area – he estimates that the fight will soon be over. Earlier this year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to level the area's garages and repair shops, paving the way for New York City's first 'green neighborhood.' The designation is based on a few key initiatives: the widespread use of green building technologies to minimize energy use; a wealth of parks, playgrounds, and walkways, which would drive up pedestrian traffic; and the incorporation of "sustainability principles" into design, construction, and cleanup."