Queens is part of New York City, and though not as densely populated as Manhattan, it is one of the largest urban centers in the United States. At the same time, parts of Queens look and feel like the suburbs.
Officially Part of New York City
Queens is one of the five boroughs of New York City and has been a borough since January 1, 1898, when it was incorporated into New York City. To confuse things a bit, it is also a county and has been since 1683, when it was established by the Dutch.
According to the Numbers, Queens Is Definitely Urban
According to data from the 2000 U.S. Census, if the borough were its own city, Queens would be the fourth largest city in the United States. (If Brooklyn were also a separate city, it would be fourth and Queens fifth.) If Queens were ranked as a city against all the major cities of the world, it would be in the top 100.
The population density (20,409 per square mile) for Queens ranks it the fourth most densely populated county in the United States. That's right behind (1) Manhattan, (2) Brooklyn, and (3) the Bronx, and ahead of Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago.
According to Popular Opinion, Queens Is Definitely Suburban
Countless articles pumped out by New York media channels rate Queens as a suburb. Maybe the most diverse suburb, but a suburb nonetheless.
When Queens joined NYC in 1898, it was mostly countryside. Over the next 60 years, it developed as a suburb. Developers planned whole communities like Kew Gardens, Jackson Heights, and Forest Hills Gardens, which brought thousands from crowded Manhattan to cheap housing. This movement increased after World War II until its population surpassed that of Manhattan.
Why Queens Feels Urban and Suburban
Population density, apartment buildings, condos, and heavily trafficked sidewalks follow the routes of the subway lines. Other areas are also thickly settled, especially along bus routes, LIRR tracks, and main thoroughfares. The communities farthest from the transportation grid look and feel the most suburban, as do the ones so exclusive that most folks are priced out, like Douglas Manor in the borough's far northeastern corner. In general, the eastern half of Queens, which the subway doesn't serve, has the most suburban character and more in common with Nassau County than with Long Island City or Jackson Heights.
A lot of the perception that Queens is a suburb stems from Manhattan's status as the most densely populated area in the United States. Anywhere else looks sprawling in comparison.
Queens may often get overshadowed by Brooklyn and Manhattan, but this borough has a lot to offer in itself. Thousands of people flock to see the New York Mets baseball games at Citi Field as well as catch the U.S. Open tennis matches, which are held at Flushing Meadows—Corona Park. Queens is also home to two great underrated museums: MoMA PS1 and the Museum of the Moving Image.