Queens is the easternmost and largest in area of the five boroughs of New York City, geographically adjacent to the borough of Brooklyn at the western end of Long Island. Coterminous with Queens County since 1899, the borough of Queens is the second-largest in population (behind Brooklyn), with a Census-estimated 2,321,580 residents in 2014, approximately 48% of them foreign-born. Queens County is also the second most populous county in New York State, behind neighboring Kings County, which is coterminous with the borough of Brooklyn. Queens is the fourth-most densely populated county among New York City’s boroughs, as well as in the United States; and if each New York City borough were an independent city, Queens would also be the nation’s fourth most populous city, after Los Angeles, Chicago, and Brooklyn. Queens is the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world.
The differing character in the neighborhoods of Queens is reflected by its diverse housing stock ranging from high-rise apartment buildings, especially prominent in the more densely urban areas of western and central Queens, such as Jackson Heights, Flushing, Astoria, and Long Island City, to large, free-standing single-family homes, common in the eastern part of the borough, in neighborhoods that have a more suburban layout like neighboring Nassau County, such as Little Neck, Douglaston, and Bayside.
Queens has the second-largest and most diversified economy of all the five boroughs of New York City; the borough is home to two of the three busiest New York City metropolitan area airports (and both major airports in New York City proper), JFK International Airport and LaGuardia Airport. These airports are among the busiest in the world, causing the airspace above Queens to be the most congested in the country. Attractions in Queens include Flushing Meadows Park—home to the New York Mets baseball team and the US Open tennis tournament—Kaufman Astoria Studios, Silvercup Studios, and Aqueduct Racetrack.
Queens was established in 1683 as one of the original 12 counties of New York and was named for the Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza (1638–1705), who was at the time queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Queens became a borough of New York City in 1898. From 1683 until 1899, the County of Queens included what is now Nassau County.
Queens Borough was established on January 1, 1898. Long Island City, the towns of Newtown, Flushing, and Jamaica, and the Rockaway Peninsula portion of the Town of Hempstead were merged to form the new borough, dissolving all former municipal governments (Long Island City, the county government, all towns, and all villages) within the new borough. The areas of Queens County that were not part of the consolidation plan, consisting of the towns of North Hempstead and Oyster Bay, and the major remaining portion of the Town of Hempstead, remained part of Queens County until they seceded to form the new Nassau County on January 1, 1899. At this point, the boundaries of Queens County and the Borough of Queens became coterminous. With consolidation, Jamaica once again became the county seat, though county offices now extend to nearby Kew Gardens also.
The borough’s administrative and court buildings are presently located in Kew Gardens and downtown Jamaica respectively, two neighborhoods that were villages of the former Town of Jamaica.
From 1905 to 1908 the Long Island Rail Road in Queens became electrified. Transportation to and from Manhattan, previously by ferry or via bridges in Brooklyn, opened up with the Queensboro Bridge finished in 1909, and with railway tunnels under the East River in 1910. From 1915 onward, much of Queens was connected to the New York City Subway system. With the 1915 construction of the Steinway Tunnel carrying the IRT Flushing Line between Queens and Manhattan, and the robust expansion of the use of the automobile, the population of Queens more than doubled in the 1920s, from 469,042 in 1920 to 1,079,129 in 1930.
In later years, Queens was the site of the 1939 New York World’s Fair and the 1964 New York World’s Fair. LaGuardia Airport, in northern Queens, opened in 1939. Idlewild Airport, in southern Queens and now called JFK Airport, opened in 1948. American Airlines Flight 587 took off from the latter airport on November 12, 2001, but ended up crashing in Queens’ Belle Harbor area, killing 265 people. In late October 2012, much of Queens’s Breezy Point area was destroyed by a massive six-alarm fire caused by Hurricane Sandy.
While Queens has not been the center of any major artistic movements, it has been the home of such notable artists as Tony Bennett, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Simon, and Robert Mapplethorpe. The current poet laureate of Queens is Paolo Javier.
Queens has notably fostered African-American culture, with establishments such as The Afrikan Poetry Theatre and the Black Spectrum Theater Company catering specifically to African-Americans in Queens. In the 1940s, Queens was an important center of jazz; such jazz luminaries as Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, and Ella Fitzgerald took up residence in Queens, seeking refuge from the segregation they found elsewhere in New York. Additionally, many notable hip-hop acts hail from Queens, including Nas, Run-D.M.C., Kool G Rap, A Tribe Called Quest, LL Cool J, Mobb Deep, 50 Cent, Nicki Minaj, and Heems of Das Racist.
Queens hosts various museums and cultural institutions that serve its diverse communities. They range from the historical (such as the John Bowne House) to the scientific (such as the New York Hall of Science), from conventional art galleries (such as the Noguchi Museum) to unique graffiti exhibits (such as 5 Pointz).
The travel magazine Lonely Planet also named Queens the No. 1 destination in the country for 2015 for its cultural and culinary diversity.
Queens has the second-largest economy of New York City’s five boroughs, second only to Manhattan. In 2004, Queens had 15.2% (440,310) of all private sector jobs in New York City and 8.8% of private sector wages. Queens has the most diversified economy of the five boroughs, with evenly spread jobs across the health care, retail trade, manufacturing, construction, transportation, and film and television production sectors. No single sector is overwhelmingly dominant.
The diversification in Queens’ economy is reflected in the large amount of employment in the export-oriented portions of its economy—such as transportation, manufacturing, and business services—that serve customers outside the region. This accounts for more than 27% of all Queens jobs and offers an average salary of $43,727, 14% greater than that of jobs in the locally oriented sector.
The borough’s largest employment sector—trade, transportation, and utilities—accounted for nearly 30% of all jobs in 2004. Queens is home to two of the three major New York City area airports, JFK International Airport and LaGuardia Airport. These airports are among the busiest in the world, leading the airspace above Queens to be the most congested in the country. This airline industry is particularly important to the economy of Queens, providing almost one quarter of the sector’s employment and more than 30% of the sector’s wages. Education and health services is the next largest sector in Queens and comprised almost 24% of the borough’s jobs in 2004. The manufacturing and construction industries in Queens are the largest of the City and account for nearly 17% of the borough’s private sector jobs. Comprising almost 17% of the jobs in Queens is the information, financial activities, and business and professional services sectors.
As of 2003, Queens had almost 40,000 business establishments. Small businesses act as an important part of the borough’s economic vitality with two thirds of all business employing between one to four people. Several large companies have their headquarters in Queens, including watchmaker Bulova, based in East Elmhurst; internationally renowned piano manufacturer Steinway & Sons in Astoria; Glacéau, the makers of Vitamin Water, headquartered in Whitestone; and JetBlue Airways, an airline based in Long Island City. Long Island City is a major manufacturing and back office center. Flushing is a major commercial hub for Chinese American and Korean American businesses, while Jamaica is the major civic and transportation hub for the borough.