Category: 3/23/2010
Roosevelt Island
| March 23, 2010 | 12:15 pm | 3/23/2010 | Comments closed

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.

| March 21, 2010 | 9:52 pm | 3/23/2010 | Comments closed

Roosevelt Island: the first thought that came to mind was the first stop of the F train on its journey before entering Queens. Nonetheless, I do consider it to be a noticeable piece of land on the East River nestled between Queens and Manhattan. It can be well viewed if crossing the Queensboro Bridge. In length, it is approximately two miles long with a width of 800 feet, with a landmass of approximately 147 acres. These 147 acres contains approximately 9,520 residents according to the year 2000 census, but apparently it has grown to 12,000 as of 2008. The male to female ratio is about 1:1. Demographically speaking, the island consists of almost 50% white residents, followed by 27% blacks. The Asian population is the next dominant population with 13%.

Historically, Roosevelt Island was once called Blackwell Island, but before that it was named Hog Island. Roosevelt Island originally belonged to the Canarsie Indians before it was sold to Wouter Van Tiller in 1637. After the Dutch rule was ousted by the English in 1666, Captain John Manning claimed the island. His son in law, Robert Blackwell soon possessed the island and named it Blackwell Island. His great grand son built the Blackwell House, now a New York historical landmark. Not long after the construction of this house, the City of New York bought the island for $32,000. The island was also called Welfare Island. As I previously mentioned, the presence of the island can’t be denied, but it looks isolated. This characteristic was apparent to many others before me. It was the ideal “haven.” The island once housed the mentally ill and the terminally sick. It was also filled with churches. With this air of hopelessness, the island took on the name Welfare Island.

My first impression of the island was its residential atmosphere. As it turned out, Roosevelt Island was principally intended to be a residential area. Its construction was planned by the firm ran by  Philip Johnson and John Burgee. The New York State Urban Development Corporation decided to implement this plan because it had the residential community design in mind. The island would be divided into three residential sectors. The island school would not be made in the stereotypical stone-like building look, but classrooms scattered around the building complexes. This was intended to give a relaxed, less rigid feeling like the type I had when I first visited the island. The primary development of Roosevelt Island was arguably more innovative compared to the more recent constructions being done.  Examples of this novice development are Westview and Eastwood , both designed by Josep Lluis Sert. Eastwood is the largest apartment housing unit on the island. The complex is worthy of consideration because it is an experimentation of a high-rise construction intended for multiple living space. Further developmental progress was rather slow after the first; the second project Northtown Phase II was completed after a decade when the first was completed. Southtown development was started in 1998, and it is still in the process of completion. Southtown brought in business establishments such as Starbucks.

The Roosevelt Island bridge facilitated the entrance into the island. Initially, a trolley was used to take passengers to the middle of Queensboro Bridge, where an elevator would lower them into the island. The island still does not have much car flow. Buses ran by the ROIC with relatively cheap fares take the island residents from their homes to the train. The Roosevelt Island Tramway provides instant access to Midtown Manhattan. Overall, Roosevelt Island has greatly improved and has shown its beauty since its use as a “hide-out” location for the city’s greatly ill people.

Anatomy of a Planning Study – Roosevelt Island
| March 20, 2010 | 11:14 pm | 3/23/2010, Blog | Comments closed

Roosevelt Island is a 2-mile-long island located between Manhattan and Queens on the East River, with a rich history in architecture and residential development. There are six notable landmarks on the island, including: Chapel of Good Shepherd, Blackwell House, Strecker Laboratory, The Octagon, The Lighthouse, and Smallpox Hospital. Today, some of these structures are preserved as historical monuments, while others are converted into luxury residences. For instance, The Octagon—formerly known as the New York Lunatic Asylum—is now a high-end apartment building that also includes a shopping mall.

Roosevelt Island is separated in two areas, Northtown and Southtown. Northtown consists of four housing complexes called the WIRE buildings, located on Main Street: Westview, Island House, Rivercross, and Eastwood. Southtown is more of a commercial area that includes restaurants, plazas, and shops. Currently, new apartment complexes and retail buildings are under construction. In fact, new businesses emerged due to residential development, such as Starbucks and Duane Reade.

Prisons in 1932

In 1828, City of New York purchased the island for $32,000 as a location for institutions, such as prisons and nursing homes. It offered a place to house the sick and the outsiders. In 1969, architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee designed a master plan for the island that was adopted by the New York State Urban Development Corporation. The plan called for a residential community that would house the elderly, the disabled and hospital workers. Currently, there are about 12,000 residents, an elementary school, a few restaurants, a shopping mall and two hospitals—Goldwater Memorial Hospital and Bird S. Coler Memorial Hospital.

In terms of infrastructure, a notable feature of the plan was to eliminate traffic problems by forbidding the use of automobiles. Today, much of the island remains a traffic-free environment. Residents are encouraged to park their cars in a large garage and take public transportation instead. The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) is responsible for maintaining, operating, and developing the island community, including housing, shops and community facilities.

For instance, RIOC manages infrastructure maintenance, including transportation to and from the island and on the island. Visitors can take the F train to Roosevelt Island or take the Tramway, which connects to Midtown Manhattan. Interestingly, the Tramway is often regarded as a tourist attraction and has been filmed in several movies and shows. On the island itself, a bright red shuttle bus transports passengers from apartment buildings to the subway and tramway for 25 cents, or 10 cents for elders and the disabled. The infrastructure, however, is aging and becoming less apt as the population increases.

RIOC is comprised of nine directors, including two members recommended by the Mayor and three residents. In this case, planning power is divided among citizen leaders and residents, which allows room for negotiation and sharing policy-making responsibilities. Nonetheless, according to the Roosevelt Island Accessibility Study*, “the island’s residents have been excluded from decision-making processes.” To ensure that the public’s voice is heard, Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) was established as a community group for active citizen participation. It “represents residents from all of the housing units on the island and plays a watchdog role regarding the management of RIOC.”


During my visit to Roosevelt Island, I had the opportunity to experience the anatomy of the land firsthand. When I exited the F train station, I was pleasantly greeted with the skyline of Manhattan’s East Side. On the opposite side, however, the view of Queens was a grotesque panorama of factories and demolished buildings. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful day with sunny skies and warm breezes.

I was expecting to see a lot people walking around and enjoying the weather, but to my surprise, the waterfront pathway was mostly empty. The pathway ran along the edge of the island and led to Main Street (the center), where the Chapel of Good Shepherd and most of the residential buildings were located. There was a plaza surrounding the church, with benches bordering the edge, but for the most part, the plaza was just empty. Even on a beautiful day, I only saw one man reading a magazine on a bench.

As I made my way north, I noticed there were many grassy areas and open spaces. At the northern-most point, where the Lighthouse is located, there were open barbeque grills where people were cooking food and expansive grassy fields where people were flying kites. Residents and visitors can go to the park via bus service or by foot. To improve accessibility, AccessRI recommended “non-auto transportation options, including bus service, pedestrian and bike access, and water transport.”

Throughout my walk, one of the things I immediately noticed was the lack of street lights; there were mostly stop signs. I felt like I was in another town. I also noticed the lack of a map system, which would have been helpful to locate landmarks or navigate the island. According to Roosevelt Island Accessibility Study, maps would make it much easier to mark “the island’s many historic sites and destinations as well as its perimeter promenade.”

In addition, to maximize the function and access of the public spaces, adding seating areas or trees (for natural aesthetics and shade) might attract more people to utilize the space. Installing public art may even help foster triangulation in the area. Having efficient infrastructure, governance, and accessibility are collectively important, because it enables commuters and tourists alike to enjoy the island’s open spaces and historic landmarks.

*Roosevelt Island Accessibility Study was developed by AccessRI, a team of ten graduate students at Hunter College’s Department of Urban Affairs and Planning. The study is a “blueprint for advocacy and action” in the areas of community planning, placemaking, revitalization, infrastructure, and governance.