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PhD Student Can Say He Ate All Along Roosevelt Ave. for Research (MAP)

By Katie Honan | March 16, 2017 12:36pm
 A Tibetan restaurant on Roosevelt Avenue, which is the most diverse commercial corridor in the country, a researcher found.
A Tibetan restaurant on Roosevelt Avenue, which is the most diverse commercial corridor in the country, a researcher found.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

One man, three months, 394 Queens restaurants.

Noah Allison can say he tried them all — for research.

The doctoral student has spent much of his academic career studying urban planning, with a focus on the influence of food and cuisine in changing immigrant neighborhoods.

After arriving in New York City as a PhD candidate in the New School's urban policy program in 2014, he decided to continue that work on Roosevelt Avenue, which he called the most diverse commercial stretch in the country.

His investigation into the avenue's culinary diversity appears in the March issue of the Graduate Journal of Food Studies, featuring color-coded maps of restaurants on the Queens corridor and its closest side streets. It also includes research on surrounding neighborhoods

Recalling his first visit to Roosevelt Avenue, Allison said he was "astonished by the heterogeneity of the different communities along the corridor."

"Anxiety grew as I headed east along Roosevelt Avenue," which extends from Sunnyside to Flushing, "for I knew that in order to better understand this new environment, I had to try all of these restaurants," he wrote in an email to DNAinfo.

So Allison dutifully set off on foot and bike, with his camera in tow, to catalog every eatery. Between Aug. 23 and Nov. 14, 2015, he visited a total of 394 restaurants featuring 25 different types of cuisines. His research efforts focused on brick-and-mortar stores, with plans to save the avenue's many street vendors for a future project.

Over three months of reporting, Allison said he found his interactions with restaurant owners and workers to be the most rewarding part of his work.

"Along the way, I met tons of foreign-born restaurateurs who decided to use cultural traditions of taste as a way to support themselves, their families, and achieve upward mobility," he explained.

Their restaurants contribute billions of dollars to the city and often become "a particular type of public space where cultural diversity is constructed, consumed, and negotiated," Allison added.

He hopes his work may help influence government policy in rapidly changing neighborhoods like Woodside and Elmhurst, which often suffer from a lack of resources.

"By understanding what is going on in areas where immigrants are playing a vital role in the revitalization and growth of communities around the world, this study will illustrate how global immigrant neighborhoods are shaping the city," and how local policies and planning may be failing them, he noted. Documentation of unequal resources is the first step to fixing the problem, Allison added.

Finally, understanding the significance of immigrant-owned businesses is vital for any city, but it's particularly important now with federal policies that could threaten new immigrants and those already living and working in the country, he explained. 

Allison said he sees Roosevelt Avenue as "an important place to study the region given its super-diversity, especially at a time when the nation’s president is defiantly instilling fear in 'otherness' and 'difference.'"

He'll complete his study within the next two years.

Explore Allison's favorite restaurants on or near Roosevelt Avenue using the map below:

View Noah Allison's Favorite Places to Eat on Roosevelt in a full screen map