In 2006, City Council Member Hiram Monserrate asked Hunter College's Center for Community Planning and Development to conduct a study of land use patterns and businesses in the Willets Point area of Queens. At the time the city's economic development officials were considering a plan to completely transform Willets Point into a destination residential/retail center. Hunter College partnered with the CUNY Mapping Service at CUR to analyze the spatial patterns of the survey results and prepare a series of maps highlighting key trends in the area. The work was supported through a grant from the NYC Dept. of Youth and Community Development.
Hunter College staff and students conducted a door-to-door survey of Willets Point businesses in English and Spanish, as well as a land use survey. The resulting report provided recommendations on alternative approaches to development and preservation.
The report revealed that there are 225 firms in Willets Point—not 80 as estimated by the city—and between 1,400 and 1,800 jobs. There is a cooperative and competitive business community, and a diversity of auto-related firms. Willets Point is an entry point for immigrant labor and entrepreneurship. There are environmental benefits of concentration, but a great need for city infrastructure and services.
Presentations were made to members of the Willets Point Business Association at a session attended by representatives from the Economic Development Corporation, Queens Community Board 3, and Council Member Hiram Monserrate’s office. The study was released at a press conference in Willets Point on May 9, 2006, and the full report is available online (PDF). It was featured in a May 16, 2006 New York Times article.
2007-2008 update: a related effort is underway by the Pratt Center. They have conducted a series of workshops to identify and prioritize the concerns of area residents, business owners, and workers, and have prepared a report of their findings [PDF].