Return to Roosevelt Island

Nearly ten years ago, Walking Off the Big Apple visited Roosevelt Island and was struck by the comparisons between the island in the East River and the Île de la Cité, the island in the Seine in Paris.

Roosevelt Island Welcome Center, near both the Tram and the ferry landing. Stop by to pick up more information.

From June 9, 2008:

“The islands both occupy important geographical sites within rivers of major world cities, one in the East River and the other in the Seine. The islands both served as locations for historic prisons - Blackwell's Island Penitentiary in New York and The Conciergerie in Paris, and both incarcerated famous women - Mae West, Emma Goldman, and Billie Holiday in NYC and Marie Antoinette, Charlotte Corday, and Madame du Barry in Paris. Large hospital complexes dominate the past and present of both islands, the legacy of the ancient practice of shifting patients with contagious diseases to areas of isolation and quarantine. The Hotel Dieu, founded in 651, is the oldest hospital in France.

Both Roosevelt Island and the Île de la Cité feature Gothic architecture - the Renwick Ruin, formerly the Smallpox Hospital, designed in Gothic Revival style by architect James Renwick, Jr., opened in 1856, on the south side of Roosevelt Island, and Paris' Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, constructed 1163-1345, on the Île de la Cité's east end. One is more famous than the other. The islands each have one Metro stop.”

The Open Space terraces of the Cornell Tech campus. The Smallpox Hospital may be seen in the distance (click on images for larger views). East side views of Manhattan include the United Nations complex.

Ten years ago, the residents were divided over the plans to build the long planned Louis Kahn-designed Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial on the south tip. In 2012, shortly after Hurricane Sandy, the memorial opened.

Cornell Tech map kiosk

Now look at Roosevelt Island. In late 2011, Cornell University won the high-stakes competition to build its new academic center for innovation here, and in 2017 the first buildings and park areas were unveiled to the public. The story of this island in the East River, politically part of Manhattan, has greatly advanced in the past ten years.

Bloomberg Center, Cornell Tech, Roosevelt Island, with the Queensboro Bridge (also known as the 59th Street Bridge) in the background).

In tandem with the opening of Cornell Tech, NYC Ferry launched its Astoria route with a stop on Roosevelt Island’s east side, just north of the Queensboro Bridge.

So, it’s high time for an update, n’est-ce pas?

Tata Innovation Center, Cornell Tech, Roosevelt Island

Cornell Tech, the university’s engineering campus for innovation and startups, has moved well along in the first phase for its ambitious multi-year Master Plan for the Roosevelt Island campus, one that will eventually fill out twelve acres.

Bloomberg Center, the main academic building, functions as the heart of campus. Thom Mayne of Morphosis designed its passive energy-efficient design, with power entirely generated on campus.

Cornell Tech, Roosevelt Island, phase one.

The nearby Tata Innovation Center, designed by Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi, functions as a business incubator. The high-rise residential building, The House at Cornell Tech, is the campus home for students and faculty.

View of campus from the terraces.

The Open Space on campus is sweeping, open, and green, undulating south to the ruins of the old Smallpox Hospital and Four Freedoms Park. Designed by the landscape design firm James Corner Field Operations, famous for the High Line, the open space of terraces constitutes a great lawn of hills and grassy corridors with inspiring views of New York City.

The sensual 360-degree surround city experience as seen from these hills (above) is worth the entire visit.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, Roosevelt Island

Walking Off the Big Apple visited Roosevelt Island on Memorial Day of 2018, an appropriate day to contemplate the legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

bust of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Four Freedoms Park, Roosevelt Island

The tree-lined Four Freedoms Park is our own Square du Vert-Galant, the small triangular patch of green on the Île de la Cité that terminates in a point.

Yet, upon leaving and comparisons aside, one must conclude that Roosevelt Island is entirely a product of New York City.

The map at the end of the post provides directions from midtown Manhattan via the NYC Ferry and the Roosevelt Island Tramway.

Leaving Roosevelt Island by tram

Recommended travel to Roosevelt Island:

Take the crosstown M34 bus to the East Ferry landing on E. 34th Street. While in the area, please make a point to see the sculpture SPOT! on E. 34th St. and First Ave (related post). Hop on the Astoria-bound ferry and get off on Roosevelt Island. The island’s free Red Bus provides a good way of seeing more of the island. By all means, take the Tram back to Manhattan, if possible.



Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from May 28, 2018.

Resources:
Cornell Tech campus website
Roosevelt Island Tram information
NYC Ferry Astoria route
Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park

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Meditations on Light, Freedom, and Architecture (2012) A visit to Four Freedoms Park following Hurricane Sandy

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About Walking Off the Big Apple



Walking Off the Big Apple features self-guided tours to neighborhoods, streets, cultural history, good books, architecture, museums, parks, landscapes, and offbeat travel experiences in New York City.

Older posts will sometimes be updated to reflect relevant changes in the city, i.e. store or restaurant closings or transit information.

Writer and editor Teri Tynes created Walking Off the Big Apple in the summer of 2007. Email: teritynes@gmail.com.