I'll never forget the first time I came across Willets Point. I'd just finished a job way out in Queens and was offered a ride to the subway by the client I'd worked with that day. They explained that the ride would include a quick stop at a mechanic, but that it would be a place I'd be interested to see. We drove by the gigantic New York Mets' Citifield stadium and turned into the mechanics' street. My jaw dropped. We left the asphalt road and suddenly I was face to face with some kind of urban Central American landscape. Unpaved roads featured potholes nearing a foot deep in some cases and puddles the length of swimming pools. Rows of car wrecks and buildings made of corrugated iron lined the street. My stunned state was broken as we were surrounded by hawkers leaning in our open windows rapid fire talking in broken English trying to win our trade. I couldn't believe we were still in New York City.
As my ride promised me, we were in-and-out quickly and I was dropped at a subway. But I couldn't get the experience out of my head. I returned a few times to visit and walk the streets and read numerous news reports on the area. And the news wasn't all good.
Willets Point had been in existence for over fifty years. It's a collection of industrial businesses mainly focused on auto work, employs a largely immigrant workforce and it's neighbor is the New York Mets baseball team. One street separates The Mets' billion dollar Citifield baseball stadium and something close to resembling a shanty town. Years of neglect by the city on the drainage system added to decades without road resurfacing had seen the area's appearance fall on bad times. Not coincidently, due to it's prime location, developers were hungrily eyeing the land and with the help of the city, had won legal cases to have the numerous businesses and residents there relocated over a period of time to far flung locations in the city. But the tenants fought back. The relocation was stalled, then approved and stalled again with some businesses moved while others were digging their heels in.
With the New York Mets suddenly in the MLB World Series against the Kansas City Chiefs, I knew it was a good time to focus on the area, it's people and it's plight. I spent a week walking the dusty streets and murdering the Spanish language in an attempt to communicate with the people I met there. Published by Reuters, you can see their Wider Image story on my work here.