Brief History

Hog Island, Manning’s Island, Blackwell’s Island, and Welfare Island.  These are the former names of what we now know as Roosevelt Island.

From 1832 to 1935, Roosevelt Island was used like a quarantine area to separate the undesireables of society from everyone else. The island housed a penitentiary, an asylum, a smallpox hospital, and a pathology lab.

It was only after Rikers Island penitentiary was opened and the convicts of Roosevelt Island (known as Welfare Island at the time) were transferred that the island began to change for the better.

In the mid 1900’s two chronic care and nursing facilities were made: Goldwater Memorial Hospital and Bird S. Coler Hospital.

Then, in 1969, plans are set up to change the island into a residential community.  The plan consists of multiple phases, of which only the first is completed.

Unconventional Society

On the island, car use is very limited.  There is a very large garage where residents park their cars.  When on the island, everyone uses public transportation, which consists of the M102 bus and Roosevelt Island’s own on-island shuttle bus service.  The fee for the shuttle bus is a quarter.

Roosevelt Island is the only residential area in the entire country to use the AVAC (Automated Vacuum Collection) System, which uses vacuumed tubes to move tanks of waste from the island to their destination elsewhere.

My Visit

After just a couple of minutes of exploring the island, I felt as though I were dreaming, living in a different society.  To try to put the feeling into words: It was almost like I was on the TV show Lost and the rest of NYC was the wild areas of the island, while Roosevelt island was the area where the “others” lived.

View of Queens from one of the island's many park spaces: It was strange being able to look out into Queens, walk for 10 seconds, and be able to look out into Manhattan.

On my visit, I started walking along the Queens side of the island.  The view had alternating areas of industrial buildings and parks, which made me think for a moment that the land use on Roosevelt Island was normal and Queens was actually the strange, foreign area.

Shaded Sidewalks

On Roosevelt Island, the housing complexes were very tall and provided a lot of shade. However, there were many open spaces. It felt as though someone had taken a block from Manhattan and a section of Ally Pond Park in Queens, and melded them into a strange island. Also, many of the buildings were made so that the side walks were covered in shade.

In the context of what we learned a couple of classes ago, Roosevelt Island had MANY areas where people could sit. From benches, to ledges (that looked like they were made specifically for sitting), to picnic tables.

There were even pieces of art! In the water!

Overall, I feel that there is a lot to learn about city planning from studying Roosevelt Island, not just from studies, but from visits and through spending time on the island.