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Taneeka Jones, a 20-year New York City public school teacher who is teaching fourth and fifth grades remotely this year, is a lifelong Rockaway resident. When the city shut down due to Covid-19, her neighborhood was a source of solace even though so many others were leaving NYC. Here’s how living in Rockaway has changed and why she is staying.
I grew up in Arverne, Queens, but I have lived in my Wave Crest apartment for 15 years, which is closer to the Far Rockaway end of the peninsula. I’ve seen the entire peninsula change a lot over the years, especially because of gentrification. Where I grew up, it was mostly African Americans who lived on my block for 20 or 30 years, and there were mostly Caucasians on the other side of the peninsula. These days, especially in Wave Crest, it’s really a melting pot. It’s nice to see kids of all backgrounds hanging out and getting along.
I’ve always enjoyed Rockaway, but the pandemic highlighted some of the reasons why living here is so great. One benefit during Covid-19 is that my neighborhood isn’t very congested. I’m high risk because I have asthma, so not having to worry about living in a dense area gave me peace of mind.
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The beach is also nearby, which was my place of solace during the shutdown. I was out there every single day at 7 a.m., jogging two miles down the boardwalk, which helped me relax. And, it helped me prepare for this school year, which I expect to be a bit crazy since I’m teaching two grades remotely.
Rockaway always gets crowded during the summer months, but this summer it seemed even more lively. People really started coming during Covid because our boardwalk, parks, and beaches remained open, except for swimming. Most of the bars and restaurants are at the other end of Rockaway, so it kept some of the crowd away from my building. And, everyone wore face masks and practiced social distancing. It really made the neighborhood feel alive.
I have friends who live in neighborhoods like Forest Hills, and the main reason they moved there was to be close to all of the restaurants and stores. But, once most of that was shut down during the pandemic, they were the New Yorkers who felt like the city was dead. I never felt that here.
Another change I’ve noticed is how transient my neighborhood has become over the years. A lot of people have stayed in my childhood neighborhood because rent is cheaper there, but in Wave Crest, people come and go. There’s only one other family on my floor that has lived here for a while. But, I have several childhood friends and my parents still live around Rockaway.
I’ve noticed that a lot of people have moved to my development recently too, although some people have moved out. I think it’s because it’s challenging to find a nice, well-maintained apartment that is affordable in New York City, but you can find them out here. Affordability is everything right now and all of the apartments in my development are modernized and there’s security. So, it gives you a feeling of luxury living, without typical NYC rent.
When my friends come to visit from other parts of the city, they’re always surprised at how nice and spacious my apartment is, especially for what I pay. Rockaway has always gotten a bit of a bad rep, but every part of the city has patchy areas.
What I like most about living in my building Wavecrest Gardens is where it’s situated on the peninsula. It’s not too deep in Rockaway and I’m only about a mile from Long Island, so I get a suburban feel while still being in the city. It’s more convenient than the suburbs for me because as a single woman, there are things I just don’t want to do like shoveling snow or maintaining a yard—and I skip out on paying high property taxes.
My development has well-maintained green space along the boardwalk, and there’s a park and playground for kids. It’s nice to have so much outdoor space, especially during these times. We also have a gym, which recently reopened, which is convenient. I will never move to another apartment, because I know I will never get what I do here for what I pay, which is less than $1,600. That’s one thing about New York City, if you have a nice, affordable apartment, then you can’t give it up.
There’s a grocery store, CVS, a hospital, and several doctor’s offices nearby, so it’s not as isolated as many people think it is. But, there aren’t many restaurants or entertainment options like a movie theater near my building. But for me, it works because it means less people congregating.
One of the only challenges of living here during the quarantine was when essentials like paper towels and toilet paper sold out, there weren't many places to go. So I ended up driving to Long Island to do a lot of my shopping, although our supermarket was never out of meat like a lot of NYC grocery stores were. The only other issue was that our one hospital was very overwhelmed—we had the third-highest death toll in NYC because we have so many nursing homes around with seniors that unfortunately passed away.
I think Rockaway is a great option for people who realized during the pandemic that health comes first. Most people leaving NYC are going to the suburbs to have more space and nature, but I already have that here. You don’t have to have a gym to work out, because we have so much green space and you’re right next to the beach.
If I were to ever move out of New York City, it would be to buy a house. But for now, my students, my parents, and Rockaway are keeping me here. I’m really curious to see how Rockaway continues to evolve. I really feel that the peninsula will continue to get better and I’m excited to see that.
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