When the “master plan” for Roosevelt Island was designed in the late 60s, it was in part a reaction to an emerging public-policy consensus that the City was in crisis. The middle-class was moving to the suburbs.
In the clean slate offered by Roosevelt Island, the drafters imagined a neighborhood designed from the ground up to integrate social classes and promote community. City planners and politicians imagined the new community could serve as an appealing place to raise middle-income children while providing better homes for lower income ones.
And it worked.
When the first residential buildings opened in the mid 70s, they welcomed an entire range of incomes, abilities, ages, and backgrounds. In true pioneer spirit, the community became a large family, celebrating and suffering together.
Roosevelt Island is proof that the public sector can produce a mixed-income diverse neighborhood from scratch. That first generation of families – including the four PS/IS 217 graduates from the class of 1993 that we spoke to for this issue – benefited from that idealism.
And then it stopped.
Those same students had front-row seats to the unraveling of that same dream. They watched as building after building went private, and middle class affordability was no longer prioritized. They watched as 800 patients were moved out of Goldwater Hospital. I continue to watch as many of my friends leave the Island for more affordable places to raise their families – at the end of this school year I will count eight families I cherish who will be leaving the Island. And then there are all of the others who think about it every time their leases expire and they have to negotiate down their rent increase.
Where are the stewards of that original vision? Theoretically, isn’t that what the mandate of the RIOC Board should be? Wasn’t that the whole point of fighting for resident representation?
The painful fact is that what should have been a governing philosophy only managed to survive one generation. This loss seeps through to our community organizations. Margie Smith stepped down from the RIOC Board this week, worn down from fruitlessly fighting this fight. At Wednesday’s RIRA meeting, our one elected body, only 13 members showed. Who can blame them when RIOC ignores their resolutions, discouraging new membership and enthusiasm?
Have we given up on Roosevelt Island?