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A Comparison of New York's Roosevelt Island and Paris' Île de la Cité: Pourquoi Pas?


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Why not invite a comparative discussion of Roosevelt Island in New York and the Île de la Cité in Paris? 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.

Île de la Cité, about .75 miles from one end to the other, is smaller than the 2-mile long Roosevelt Island, and while accessible by many bridges, including the Pont Neuf, this island in Paris does not enjoy the delights of a tram system. The Parisian island has evolved greatly over the past ten centuries, and in its current state serves as headquarters for law, police, and religion, all housed in large institutional buildings. Roosevelt Island is also rapidly evolving, filling out an overall plan by Philip Johnson and John Burgee. Both islands feature basic retail and services.

Feel free to explore the maps above. The imagery for the Google map of Roosevelt Island is out of date, as several new apartment buildings have since risen along the East River shoreline north of the tram station. Also, on the north end of Roosevelt Island, the Octagon Building, the former home of a lunatic asylum that currently houses luxury residences, is shown without its now-attached wing.

One island is sometimes known as "the epicenter of Paris." The other is something referred to as "the Little Apple." Question: Can Roosevelt Island, in its own special way, become a new Paris?

Part of a longer series of posts about a walk on Roosevelt Island. Additional images at Flickr WOTBA.

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