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New Queens historian unveils his agenda for boro

Flushing resident Jack Eichenbaum, plans to focus on environmental preservation, changes in Queens’ demographics and using technology to document history in his new role as borough historian, he said during a ceremony celebrating his new post last week.

“This is the garden borough and we’re paving it,” ´╗┐Eichenbaum warned last Thursday at Queens Borough Hall.

Eichenbaum, who was appointed historian by Borough President Helen Marshall in June, was joined by a large group of history and preservation buffs as well as civic leaders, at the Queens Preservation Council reception.

“A lot of people don’t know a lot of our historical places, and Jack is the person to introduce these people to them,” Marshall said. “He’s a natural when it comes to these places. He’ll get people to visit these sites and think about how Queens was set up.”

The new historian, who lives in Flushing, has degrees in chemical engineering and physical chemistry and is a former assessor for the city Finance Department. He also taught about urban growth and geography at the City University of New York. He hosts a wide variety of tours of Queens and the city, including Flushing’s Koreatown, Long Island City’s Hunter’s Point, South Richmond Hill, Jackson Heights, Sunnyside, Jamaica and Flushing’s Main Street, among many others.

Just as important as maintaining the borough’s unique architecture is what Eichenbaum called “environmental preservation.”

“Queens has always successfully competed with Manhattan by offering more land, less crowding and a healthier environment,” Eichenbaum said. “Queens had the first nurseries in North America. Queens had the Garden City movement, which encouraged planned communities with setbacks and street trees proximate to railroad stations, such as Kew Gardens, Forest Hills Gardens.”

Queens has an opportunity to revitalize its plentiful amount of waterfront property, Eichenbaum said.

“We have miles and miles of forlorn waterfront that we have to build up into something better,” he said. “The jewel in the crown that could be something splendid is Newtown Creek. There’s Flushing Bay, Little Neck Bay, Jamaica Bay has good waterfront.”

The borough has experienced extensive demographic changes, particularly following the 1965 change in federal immigration laws, and Eichenbaum said he hopes to document the influx of immigrants from throughout the world to Queens.

“Our borough’s ethnic neighborhoods and food have drawn outside visitors,” Eichenbaum said.

The new historian said he plans to work with area colleges to document the changing demographics, including archiving interviews with community leaders from different ethnic groups.

He also stressed the need to attract Queens’ newer residents to the preservation movement in the borough.

“We’ve got to get the second-generation immigrants interested in preservation and history in Queens,” Eichenbaum said.

New technology could be a big boost when it comes to documenting changes in Queens, including using aerial photographs to show shifts in population and buildings trends, Eichenbaum said. Additionally, he said he would like to create walking tours in the borough that individuals could access from their cell phones.

“You could hook into a recorded walking tour for wherever you are in Queens,” he said. “It would be free and maybe funded in part by merchants along the tour.”´╗┐

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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