What It's Like To Live On A Hidden Island "No One Has Ever Heard Of"

Photographed by Maureen Drennan.
When you think of New York City, you probably picture soaring skyscrapers, picnics at Central Park, maybe a posh Brooklyn brownstone on a tree-lined street.

But the city's five boroughs are also home to small — often overlooked — neighborhoods that feel worlds apart from the fluorescent lights of Times Square.

Broad Channel, Queens, is one of those communities.

The island is about an hour by car or subway from Midtown Manhattan. You can even see the skyline from its shores.

But unlike the densely packed and fast-paced island of Manhattan, the mile-long Broad Channel retains a small-town vibe. The mostly working-class neighborhood is home to fewer than 3,000 residents — many families have lived there for generations. Kids play freely in the streets and swim in Jamaica Bay.

Photographer Maureen Drennan, a native New Yorker, first encountered the neighborhood in 2012, when its weathered clapboard houses caught her eye during a subway ride to the nearby Rockaways.

"I thought, Wow, this is such an anomaly," she recalled. "So I just got off the train and I started walking around and photographing."

Drennan has spent the past four-plus years documenting the lives of the neighborhood's residents, including young women like Amy Mahon, a 22-year-old aspiring photographer.

Like many people Drennan encountered, Mahon harbors deep love and a sense of attachment to her hometown, even if it is "an island in the middle of Queens that no one has ever heard of."

"It’s my home, my sanctuary," she told Drennan.

Still, the families of Broad Channel have faced a great deal of hardship in recent years. Hurricane Sandy devastated the community, flooding every house and business. Residents suffered further from insurance companies denying their claims and the red tape of the Build it Back program. Some people are still waiting to receive insurance checks to make needed repairs on their homes in order to move back in. Due to rising flood-insurance costs and the enormous expense of rebuilding a home, many flooded buildings remain vacant and in disrepair.

Because many residents lost treasured photographs in the storm, Drennan has a practice of giving a family prints after she has taken their portrait.

Despite those challenges, and the threat of future flooding as sea levels continue to rise, many people living on Broad Channel remain committed to their neighborhood.

“What really struck me was how vulnerable they were environmentally and yet how resilient they were after Sandy," Drennan said. "That vulnerability is still there. Climate change is still happening, and I imagine it’s just going to get worse. But they don’t want to leave. This is their home."

Ahead, an intimate look at life in this "hidden gem" within New York City, through the eyes of the young women who live there.

All captions by Maureen Drennan.
This project was supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.