Remember that Joni Mitchell song about how they paved paradise and put up a parking lot? That song always springs to mind when I read about utopia, which, according to dictionaries, is an imaginary place where everything is perfect. I remember reading about the utopias set up, supposedly, by anarchist idealists when, in point of fact, anarchy, as an ideology, rejected the notion of perfection. Semantic or ideological arguments aside, people have strived to create utopia communities, from socialist communes in Russia, Ireland and Germany in the late 19th and early 20th century, among a few, to the hippy communes of the ’60s and religious cult movements like the followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in Oregon, USA in the ’80s.
This latter was of particular interest to me because as the Bhagwan fled the Unites States, a fugitive from federal tax charges among other things, he hid out, temporarily, on the top floor of a hotel in Limerick City, Ireland. Yours truly was dispatched by my newspaper, The Sunday Press, to get an interview with the fugitive guru and the background to his flight from the United States. But that’s a story for another day.
Atlas Obscura has put together a compendium of American utopia that became anything but heaven on earth. It’s a fascinating yarn and who knew Queen’s, New York has its own Utopia?
New York City has many glorious and terrible attributes. One thing it generally isn’t, though, is utopian. One fifth of the population live below the poverty line, yet it has the highest cost of living in the U.S., with few of the egalitarian living arrangements typical of utopian communities. Yet there is one place in the sprawling metropolis, however, that is literally a Utopia.
Utopia, Queens, is a tiny neighborhood surrounded by Jamaica Estates, Fresh Meadows, and Flushing.