Our four-part series takes a look at Rockaway Beach and how it gave New Yorkers an escape from the city — without ever leaving the city — during the first summer of the Coronavirus pandemic. All photos were shot during two bike-based, long weekend visits.

Urban Filth

Accretions of trash, culture, textures. The marks of human hands. Sometimes permanent, sometimes fleeting. Often overlooked. Many bikes. Very Queens.

Urban filth is what happens to the built environment after it’s built. Sometimes it happens through addition. Other times, through subtraction. But most of the time, it’s both.

Before going any further, let me point out that “urban filth” is not a pejorative term, at least not to me. It’s what makes cities cities. If you think Rockaway Beach isn’t a gritty place, you’re kidding yourself.

Let’s celebrate that grit — as well as the Fourth of July, 2020 — and have a little fun trying to decode it.

The abandoned houses remind me of College Point in the mid-80s. The young and hip confronting urban grit, maybe for the first time, remind me of early-2000s Williamsburg. And every photo of a sidewalk includes at least two dozen pieces of sun-ripened chewing gum.

Every vantage contains references to Rockaway’s past, present, and future. You can almost forget that the beach is a block away while trying to take it all in.

A Proper NYC Fourth of July

“The Fourth shines a light on the filth!” That’s what Meade said while editing this piece.

Fireworks utilize four senses, and they leave behind a little filth of their own. That’s part of life in Queens. When I was a kid, we set off (illegal) fireworks by the boatload.

During Covid Summer 2020, fireworks complaints spiked across all boroughs, as a traumatized populace sought escape through blowing shit up. But no fireworks that I have seen anywhere else compared to Rockaway Beach on July 4th, 2020. It was the loudest, most bodacious, most horizon-spanning show on Earth.

We had come to Rockaway for an escape, but the neighborhood locals needed an escape of their own. Who were we to stand in their way?

They treated us to a hell of a show. This one small clip from one block’s display will give you an idea:

Just imagine the sights, sounds, smells, and feels of that happening on every block over hundreds of blocks.

By July 4, 2020, fireworks had been waking us up every night for two months where we lived in LIC. But we slept soundly through the late-night explosions over the beach.

Check out the other pieces in our Rockaway Beach series:




Words & photos by Rob Bellinger
Published: 9/10/2021
Rockaway Beach visits: July 3-5 and September 4-7, 2020