As a Roosevelt Island resident since 2008, and a public relations and marketing communications consultant, I have long held an interest in how Roosevelt Island is promoted to the general public. I was instrumental in securing a neighborhood directory placed in the subway station, where schools, the Visitor Kiosk, and the RIOC office are listed. In addition, I have raised the issue of directional signage to the RIOC Board.
Often, I find RIOC does an inadequate job of attracting visitors to the Island, guiding them to Island destinations, and encouraging visitors to stay on the Island and spend money in local shops and restaurants.
A new brochure published by RIOC is a step forward, yet it has notable deficiencies.
Where Are the People?
First, there are 11 photos taken at street level, plus one of the Tram above ground. There are no people in any of the photos on the ground. This is absurd. Roosevelt Island is nearly flat and many disabled residents live here. A photo of a family strolling beneath the cherry blossom trees with a child in a stroller would be most attractive. It would convey that the path is flat and that disabled people in wheelchairs would be able to navigate the promenade and enjoy the spectacular views.
On the New York City Department of Parks website, the East River Promenade is shown with bicyclists, joggers, and pedestrians, amply illustrating how popular the promenade is for walking and exercise.
Similarly, the lonely-looking empty chairs and tables on Eleanor’s Pier could have been filled with a few passersby or even RIOC employees.
The brochure lists the six principal landmarks of Roosevelt Island, as follows: Lighthouse, Octagon, Good Shepherd Community Center, Strecker Laboratory, Blackwell House, and Smallpox Hospital.
These apparently are in directional order, from north to south. Except that Blackwell House is actually located between Good Shepherd Community Center and Strecker Laboratory. Perhaps Blackwell House and Strecker will be switched in the next printing, thereby truly conforming to the north to south order.
The brochure also lists other sites to visit: Promenades, Pier and the Meditation Steps; Main Street; Southpoint Park; FDR Four Freedoms State Park; and Cornell Tech.
As with the landmarks, these are not quite in north-to-south order. Note the map gives no indication where the Promenades, West Pier and Meditation Steps are situated.
Also, sadly, this panel is printed in reverse type, with white letters on a green background. Reverse type is harder to read, making this a poor design choice. Black letters on any other light-colored background would have worked better.
Additionally, the text of the brochure includes many infelicitous errors in punctuation, as well as some misleading statements. For example, referring to the Octagon Tower, the brochure states, “The landmark is housed in a luxury residential complex.” It is more accurate to say the Octagon’s central atrium is the only structure remaining from the asylum; the two residential wings are entirely new construction. Separately, Good Shepherd is more than a community center; its chapel continues to serve as a house of worship.
Finally, although the map indicates the locations of dining establishments with four fork and knife icons, the brochure makes no effort to direct visitors to visit these restaurants to spend a few dollars. Except for a nominal reference to Main Street “providing retail and community space,” the reader of this self-guided tour would have no way of knowing the dining options on the Island include Chinese, Greek/diner, sandwiches, Japanese, Italian, a coffee shop, a sports bar, and the Cornell Tech Café, not to mention the three delis and supermarket.
This, then, brings us to consider the audience for the brochure. Is it visitors to the Island or is it residents? I found the brochure at Sportspark, which is largely frequented by residents. The presumed audience of visitors is unlikely to find the brochure there. Does RIOC plan to reinstall sleeves on the walls of the Manhattan Tram station to house these brochures, so that visitors might acquaint themselves with the wonders of the Island? Curiously, the brochure has not yet been shared with the Roosevelt Island Historical Society Visitor Center kiosk. Moreover, the brochure published the residential phone number of the RIHS president, without permission.
The Island needs promotional literature and RIOC has spent a pretty penny on this glossy four-color brochure, rife with shortcomings. With some copyediting, fact-checking and proofreading, as suggested here, surely, they will do better with the next printing.
Janet Falk is a RIRA Common Council Member.