Skip to main content

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


View Larger Map


View Larger Map

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 The imagery for the Google map of Roosevelt Island is out of date, as several new apartment buildings have since risen along the East River shoreline north of the tram station.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.





Popular posts from this blog

The Lonesome Metropolis: A Walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center

As New York City reopens, why do the attractions of the great metropolis still look mostly deserted on a summer morning? A morning walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center sought to address this question. As it turns out, there are several adequate explanations. But for what happens next, there are no right answers.

Many neighborhoods outside of tourist New York are still buzzing along. While some residents of wealthier neighborhoods have largely decamped to mountain cabins, beach houses, and other second homes, the less wealthy have nowhere to go and may still be working. Just visit Washington Heights or Corona or Flatbush, and you’ll see sidewalks full of shoppers and summer evening street partiers. Those who fled the city remain only a fraction of the total population.  

Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been frequently occupied, as in Occupied, with crowds protesting police violence. This week, NYPD officers in riot gear remove…

The City Turned Inside Out: A Walk from Battery Park to Fulton Street

While the cast of HAMILTON sings “The World Turned Upside Down,” New Yorkers could easily hum along to “The City Turned Inside Out” this summer. (not a real song) Where once a city’s important work took place indoors - within the soaring office buildings, famous restaurants, legendary museums, and storied performance halls, the COVID-19 epidemic has literally turned the residents outdoors. 

At least it’s summer in the city, when spending time outdoors is common and pleasant enough. Still, the city remains strange this summer of 2020. 

With the absence of tourists, and with office workers connecting virtually from home, many of the city’s main attractions aren’t attracting many visitors. A walk from the Battery to Fulton Street on a pleasant Thursday afternoon bore this out. 

It’s uplifting to at least find plants that are alive and happy. Thanks to the city’s gardeners and landscapers, the city parks are looking particularly lush and splendid this summer. The grounds of Battery Park feel…

A Morning Walk from Pandemic Station to Pandemic Square

Penn Station to Times Square
New York City entered a new phase of the reopening on Monday, but you would never know it from a morning walk in Midtown on the day after. 

After running an errand near Penn Station, I decided to take a walk up to Times Square and Broadway before heading home from 59th Street and Columbus Circle. 

I wasn’t altogether prepared for the sights and sounds of this time and this place. Like many other New Yorkers, I have rarely left my neighborhood for the past four months. 

After exiting a quiet Penn Station near 8th Avenue and W. 33rd Street at what would normally be the end of rush hour, I found myself suddenly dropped into a city (mostly) bereft of crowds. 

Yet, I had been here before. A long time ago, I road my bike a few times through Times Square at dawn on a Sunday morning in summertime, and just a few people were there. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I remember wandering around a brightly lit Times Square near sunset and then looking down the avenue to…

A Time of Soft Reopenings and Cautionary Travel

As the pandemic crisis lessens in New York State, several NYC attractions are scheduling their reopenings. What will open, and how will you get there? This list will be updated following official announcements.
UPDATED July 31, 2020. With the state of New York currently ahead of the class in the pandemic outbreak across the US, many places have started to reopen. The rollout is designed to be gradual, with geographic regions advancing according to a fixed set of metrics. 
New York City, the hardest hit area in the first months of the crisis, entered Phase 4 on Monday, July 20. The local exception: indoors of malls, restaurants, and cultural institutions.

In NYC, some offices are bringing back their workers, and many restaurants, at least the ones that have survived the economic onslaught of the past few months, are commandeering the sidewalks for outdoor dining. Some commercial sightseeing boats have announced future dates for sails (see full list below).  
Before the pandemic, a “soft op…

A Weekend Walk on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

Imagine strolling from town to town near the eastern shores of the Hudson River, walking a well-trodden path lined with trees and stately architecture and with easy access to cafes, local shops, and train stations for an easy ride home. Imagine a weekend when the sun is bright and the sun is warm, and many other people - but not too many - are out enjoying the same weather and the same stroll. Such were the pleasures on a recent Sunday, in the latter part of this unseasonal winter, along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail not too far north from New York City.


The Old Croton Aqueduct, the system that once delivered fresh water from the Croton River to New York City, was a huge and complex marvel of engineering. The trail sits on top of the aqueduct system. This post describes a walk along just a section of the trail, the one that begins at the Keeper’s House in Dobbs Ferry and ends in Irvington.


First, catch a Metro-North Hudson line train to Dobbs Ferry, a village in southern Westchester C…

Delacroix’s Cats

Following its record-breaking debut at the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the blockbuster Delacroix exhibit has opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. While not all of the works could travel, as some are intrinsic to the Louvre, the big cats made the trip to the city. For the Delacroix exhibit poster, the Met has selected Young Tiger Playing with Its Mother, the artist’s great and surprising painting from 1830, as the signature and defining work of the exhibition.


Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798–1863), known as the leading Romantic painter of his era, loved cats. His many notebooks show preparatory sketches of lions, tigers, and several charming domestic cats. The big cats, for the most part, made it into big paintings. At 52 x 76.6 in. (130 x 195 cm), Young Tiger Playing with Its Mother, 1830, is astonishingly large for an animal painting of his time, a size normally devoted to a history painting. His most famous work, La Liberté guidant le peuple, dates from the same year.�…

Starstruck at MoMA

(Update July 31, 2020. Please note: After reopening in 2019, MoMA is currently closed as a result of the pandemic. MoMA has not announced its reopening.) 
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Midtown Manhattan is undergoing a significant renovation and expansion that will increase gallery space by thirty percent upon completion in 2019. In the midst of renovation and following a long hot summer, the museum may currently look a little rough around the edges and even disorienting for longtime patrons. For starters, you’ll need to enter the museum on W. 54th Street instead of W. 53rd Street while the work is taking place, and the museum store is now currently on the second floor next to the coffee bar which has also moved.


This state of affairs didn’t stop visitors on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend from making a pilgrimage to the museum to gaze at treasures of modern art. In an age of quickly disposable digital imagery, the original and cherished works still exude their aura. Ironically,…

From Manhattan to the Bronx: A Walk Over the Henry Hudson Bridge to Henry Hudson Park

At the tiptop of Manhattan Island, Inwood Hill Park offers picturesque views of the Hudson River. For one of the best views, follow the marker at Shorakkopoch Rock (see map at the end of the post), the legendary place where Peter Minuit was said to have bought the island for 60 guilders, and follow the ridge up the slope. The path leads gently higher and higher, with views of the Salt Marsh down below and then the underside of the Henry Hudson Bridge above. This spot along the ridge is well known among birders, as the height and the proximity to the Hudson River allow access to treetops and places where birds like to go. 

Keep going around the bend and past the bridge. A few spots of open pavement at the edge of the hill provide good views of the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge, a swing bridge that carries train traffic to and from Penn Station. The bridge was recently upgraded. On the opposite shore of Spuyten Duyvil Creek, you’ll likely see Metro-North trains coming round the bend, either he…

The Most Beautiful Bridge in the World

Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier (1887 - 1965), the leading proponent of the International Style of modern architecture, visited NYC on several occasions in the 1930s and 1940s, and he made much to say about the skyscraper city. He didn’t think much of the faux tops of the tall buildings nor did he care about the haphazard city planning, but he did fall madly in love with one particular bridge: 
"The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson is the most beautiful bridge in the world. Made of cables and steel beams, it gleams in the sky like a reversed arch. It is blessed. It is the only seat of grace in the disordered city. It is painted an aluminum color and, between water and sky, you see nothing but the bent cord supported by two steel towers. When your car moves up the ramp the two towers rise so high that it brings you happiness; their structure is so pure, so resolute, so regular that here, finally, steel architecture seems to laugh. The car reaches an unexpectedly wide apro…

Taking a Constitutional Walk

A long time ago individuals going out for a walk, especially to get fresh air and exercise, often referred to the activity as "taking a constitutional walk." The word "constitutional" refers to one's constitution or physical makeup, so a constitutional walk was considered beneficial to one's overall wellbeing. (Or, as some would prefer to call it, "wellness.") The phrase is more common in British literature than in American letters.

As early as the mid-nineteenth century, many American commentators expressed concern that their countrymen were falling into lazy and unhealthy habits. Newspaper columnists and editorial writers urged their readers to take up the practice of the "constitutional" walk.



One such essay, "Walking as an Exercise," originally printed in the Philadelphia Gazette and reprinted in New England Farmer, Volume 11, 1859, urges the people of farm areas to take up walking. City dwellers seemed to have the advantag…