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Pandemic Geographies:
Socio-Spatial Adaptations in Multiethnic Queens

From March through May 2020, Queens gained widespread notoriety as the global epicenter of the Covid-19 crisis.  Specifically, the pandemic took its heaviest toll in terms of infection and mortality on a cluster of four zip codes in Western Queens corresponding to the neighborhoods of Woodside, Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, and Corona.  At the center of these neighborhoods lies Elmhurst Hospital, which quickly became overwhelmed by patients suffering from respiratory distress brought on by Covid-19.  The hospital featured in many long-form journalism pieces in major venues such as the New York Times and the Atlantic Monthly, exposing the pandemic's toll on frontline health care workers, patients and families, and surrounding communities.   

Thanks to a generous grant from the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility, we are able to undertake a close study of the the social, spatial, and economic changes wrought by the career of the novel Corona virus through Queens, New York.  The goal is to understand how various groups adapted to the pandemic, and to trace the vulnerabilities and resilience of communities in the slow process of recovery.

The four neighborhoods examined in this study are renowned for their ethnic and religious diversity, with large numbers of immigrants from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Tibet, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines.  Over the last several decades, these communities have built strong and resonant civil, religious, and political institutions to advance their interests and stake a claim on the city.


The project we propose takes a close look at the varied and uneven experiences of residents and business owners during the pandemic, the impact on lives and livelihoods, and the strategies by which communities attempt to regain a sense of routine in the wake of the crisis.  Using a mixed portfolio of methods, including surveys, semi-structured interviews, participant observation, mapping and spatial analysis, we will engage residents, business owners, health care workers, service employees, and others with a stake in the neighborhoods under investigation.  In doing so, we hope to build a careful picture of Western Queens during the critical stages of transitioning, however tentatively, to a post-pandemic condition.

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