Skip to main content

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

Related on this website:

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









Popular posts from this blog

North Towards Autumn: A Day Trip on the Metro-North Hudson Line

The peak of autumn colors in New York City tends to fall sometime in the days following Halloween, but those anxiously waiting leaf change can simply travel north.  Near Beacon, a view of autumn colors from the Metro-North Hudson line One way to speed the fall season is to take the Hudson line of Metro-North north of the city and watch the greens fade to oranges and yellows and the occasional burst of red.  Autumn light in Hastings-on-Hudson Weekends during the month of October are ideal times to make the trip. The air tends to be crisp with bright blue skies, and the Hudson River glimmers like a mirror in the light of autumn. As the Hudson line hugs the river for much of the distance north, the train ride alone provides plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. Try to grab a window seat on the river side of the train car for views of the Palisades and the bends of the Hudson Highlands later in the trip.   Autumn leaves on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail in Hastings Still, October is a gr

Early Voting in Washington Heights, and A Walk

Early voting for the 2020 federal election in New York began on Saturday, October 24 and continues through Sunday, November 1. The weekend was overcast and autumnal, with the bright yellows of fall on display. In New York City, thousands of New Yorkers turned out at the 88 early voting locations and waited in long lines, many stretching around the block.  A line to vote in Washington Heights. The line stretched around the block multiple times. Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn were two of the well-known sites, but most voting places were typical neighborhood places such as schools, churches, and hospitals.   The scene outside the entrance to the Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion, one of the early voting locations in Washington Heights. In Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan, two early voting locations were within a short walk of one another, causing some confusion for voters emerging from the 168th Street subway station. The Columbia Universit

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. Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. 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.   Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been fr

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.  New landscaping in Battery Park 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.  Shade plants like hosta thrive in Battery Park. The Statue of Liberty is in the distance. 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.  Statue Cruises is still sailing. It’s uplifting to at least find plants that are alive and

The Season of Owls

 A walk in Inwood Hill Park. The days following the holidays and the first of the year make a good time to check in on life in the winter forest. I have a forest just down the street from me in Inwood Hill Park in Northern Manhattan. There, a vast old growth forest still stands. A Barred Owl faces the setting sun in Inwood Hill Park in Northern Manhattan. A few weeks ago, someone on a local Facebook page posted a snapshot of a Barred Owl, and I was keen to go looking for it in the park. I didn't find the owl on the first day, but the next day I saw it. A handful of birder enthusiasts were already on the scene and kindly pointed it out high up in the pines. What a beautiful creature!  A stand of White Pines provides the habitat for the Barred Owl. The owl is in this picture. I know, hard to see.  Since my first owl visit, everyday life during the otherwise dreary post-holiday doldrums has taken on a finer aura. I have returned several times, each taking a different path up to the o

NYC Re-openings and Travel Advice

What will open, and how will you get there? This list will be updated following official announcements. UPDATED October 10, 2020.  Many favorite local destinations have now reopened.  Hand sanitizer dispenser at the Marble Hill station of Metro-North's Hudson line Openings  - General Information and Popular Destinations    • Restaurants: Consult this NYC Department of Transportation map  (updated link) for restaurants currently open in NYC. Starting September 30, NYC allowed indoor dining at 25% capacity. • As of September 25, outdoor dining in NYC has been extended FOREVER. • The  9/11 Memorial  reopened on Saturday, July 4. Visitors must wear masks and keep social distancing practices. • (update) Libraries: NYPL. T he library will allow a grab-and-go service at 50 locations.   • Governors Island reopened July 15 with advance reserved tickets.  • The High Line  reopened on July 16, with several rules and limitations in place, including timed entry passes - available July 9. Entra

Walking It Off: Coping with Holiday Stress During the Pandemic

When I began this series, “Pandemic Posts from the Pause: New York City in the Age of Coronavirus” in March of 2020, I could see the first young greens of spring from my window. New Yorkers were told to stay home then and away from others. As someone who enjoys walking in the city, I knew that I would need to sacrifice many things this year. I was not going to give up walking. I quickly figured out that I could safely go to Inwood Hill Park near my house and wander the trails in the old forest. In March, I could breathe in the spring air away from others. There was little else to do during those early days of the “pause.” New Yorkers suffered greatly at the beginning. In a few months we were able to get the numbers down and to manage some semblance of human interaction, at a distance and masked.  Now, with the beginning of the holidays, the city and nation faces the existential threat of the virus’s return, the political assault on democratic norms, and the ongoing threat of the clima

An Early Autumn Walk in Central Park: 2020 Edition

This week, the singer Diana Krall released a cover of “Autumn in New York,” the standard by Vernon Duke. An accompanying video , filmed in New York by Davis McCutcheon and directed by Mark Seliger, portrays the city in moody yet beautiful black and white tones. Beyond the lack of autumn colors, the film shows the empty streets of the pandemic city. The mood riffs on the underlying melancholy of the song’s lyrics, that the fall season “is often mingled with pain.” Approaching The Mall in Central Park  When I think of autumn in New York, I automatically imagine walking in Central Park in the vivid colors of the season. The images here, from a meandering one-mile stroll this past Saturday, show only a hint of autumnal glory but reflect more conventional representations of both the season and the song. Yet, walking in Central Park at the beginning of autumn is tinged for me with a hint of sadness, or truthfully, with some anxiety about the coming months. The Mall in Central Park I hadn’t v

A Morning Walk from Penn Station to Times 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.  At 34th Street and 8th Avenue, an outsize reminder of the public health crisis from Montefiore Medical Center 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.  34th Street looking east toward the Empire State Building 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.  8th Avenue at W. 38th Street 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.  A few commuters near Port Authority and The New York Times building, 8th Avenue and W. 40th Street Yet, I had

Facing the Dark Ages

A close look at The Met Cloisters Update: The Met Cloisters reopened on September 12, 2020. See the museum's website for ticket information. The Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 82-year-old home for its medieval collection in Fort Tryon Park (known as The Met Cloisters in recent years, the result of rebranding), dominates Northern Manhattan like a mystical fortress, like some object of a mythical quest. From nearly any direction, it’s easy to see the tower with its sandy-colored walls, double-arched windows, and Mediterranean style tile roof. Walking south on Broadway north of Dyckman Street , the way of everyday serfs and pilgrims going to market, the otherworldly sight of the imposing structure can transform an otherwise pedestrian journey.  View of The Met Cloisters from the northeast Culture and architect critic Lewis Mumford (1895-1990), reviewing the museum’s opening in 1938 for his regular column in The New Yorker, didn’t care much for the tower, but that was his