A Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation Town Meeting was held yesterday to discuss safety and preparations for Figment NYC, the participatory arts event that will be held on June 1 and June 2 at various locations on Roosevelt Island. Residents, who lined the chapel’s center aisle with questions after presentations from RIOC’s Susan Rosenthal and Mary Cuneen and the Public Safety Department’s Chief Jack McManus and Deputy Kevin Brown, mostly offered negative reactions. Representatives from FIGMENT NYC, the New York City Emergency Management Department (NYCEM) and NYPD were also in attendance.
The meeting was a response to April’s Cherry Blossom Festival that brought tens of thousands of visitors here. Islanders complained about not being able to get to work, not being able to get home, about our stores running out of basic necessities, and about the large crowds that made them feel unsafe. There were lines at Gristede’s for their one restroom, (not to mention Starbucks and the library), Duane Reade ran out of water, Cornell Tech and all of the vendors ran out of food, and residents complained about festival attendees walking through the Roosevelt Landings complex looking for restrooms.
Rosenthal kicked off yesterday’s meeting by explaining that things will be different for Figment then they were for the Cherry Blossom Festival. She said, “it’s better to be overprepared; we can always scale back if the crowds don’t come.”
RIOC President Susan Rosenthal addresses Islanders at the community town hall last night
“The number of visitors was unlike anything we had ever seen on this Island,” Rosenthal said about the Cherry Blossom Festival, and that, “No one was hurt, and amazingly, no one was arrested.”
She said that the day after the Cherry Blossom Festival, RIOC immediately engaged other agencies in multiple meetings and conversations. Rosenthal listed the New York City Emergency Management Department (NYCEM), NYPD, New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA), MTA, FDNY, New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), NYS Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Services, New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) and NYC Health + Hospitals (HHC) as who RIOC is working with to plan for Figment NYC, the two day art festival, that until this year has always been held on Governor’s Island.
A lot of Personnel
“It’s an all hands for this event,” said Chief McManus explaining that not only will NYCEM have a command post on Main Street and the FDNY will have an ambulance stationed here, but that both PSD and RIOC will be on hand throughout the festival.
Deputy Inspector Osvaldo Nuñez from the NYPD 114th precinct conducted a walk-through of Lighthouse Park, where the heart of the festival will be and has committed NYPD officers to 12 locations on the Island, including both sides of the Tram, the subway stop, the ferry terminal, Motorgate and locations on the east and west esplanades, with their main location being Lighthouse Park. Rosenthal said that they have “already figured out where the barricades will be placed.”
Representatives from FIGMENT NYC, RIOC, PSD, NYPD and NYCEM attended the Town Hall
Access by Car
There will be traffic detail to ensure a better traffic flow for the Queens side of the bridge, where congestion from the Cherry Blossom Festival left many Islanders stranded that day. Describing the area right over our bridge as “three streets converging on one intersection,” Chief McManus said, “There is a lot of effort that’s going into this and the resulting effort will increase the safety by tenfold.”
Though they don’t believe Figment will draw a similar crowd, McManus advised Islanders to “allow yourself extra time that weekend when travelling by vehicle.”
Residents travelling off-Island by car should bring identification just in case vehicular access to the Island becomes limited. Those who park in Motorgate are invited to pick up neon green placards either at Motorgate or at Public Safety that will ensure their access to the garage.
Those who park elsewhere on the Island need only have a form of documentation confirming they are residents to drive over the bridge. Taxis will be allowed on-Island.
According to Deputy Brown, the subway posed a “major challenge” during and after the Cherry Blossom Festival. To try to alleviate train congestion, the subway will be running on a weekday schedule during Figment weekend, and there will be 19 NYPD Transit officers at our station to assist with crowd control and travel.
There will also be better organization on both the Manhattan and Roosevelt Island sides of the tram. PSD would not commit to a resident preference for tram travel that weekend but did acknowledge they were considering putting some kind of priority system in place so residents could get home in case of large crowds.
Chief McManus, who commended NYCEM, “When they send out invited to a meeting, decision-makers come,” said the EDC, the operator of the NYC Ferry, who have promised their larger boats for Figment and have said they would remain available in case we need an emergency evacuation.
Though the red bus will make regular stops, and will not be going to Lighthouse Park, they will operate on their more frequent weekday schedule. Rosenthal said that though specifics have not been worked out, that the Roosevelt Island Disabled Society will run their bus down to the lighthouse for the disabled.
The Figment Experience
Cuneen, who defined the festival as “an interactive art festival that promotes sustainability and recycling,” clarified that besides Lighthouse Park, there will be 90 smaller art installations starting at the subway and heading north. She said most of them will not be structures and may not even be stationary but will be experiences geared at engaging the other senses, like postcard making and yoga.
Marianna Lavin, Co-Producer of Figment NYC said they will have greeters at the subway station to direct visitors. “We have never had any issues with overcrowding or pushing,” said Lavin. To assuage Islanders concerns, she pointed to their experience – this will be their 70th event, in 20 cities and five continents. She said, “Our crowd is a very respectful crowd. We have principles.”
Work at Lighthouse Park is almost complete, with new concrete bridges in place
To that end, on their social platforms, Figment has advised visitors to bring anything that they might need for the day. They specify drinking water and food and caution that parking on Roosevelt Island is very limited.
Rosenthal said she reached out to all Island businesses to alert them to stock up. Otherwise, water will be available outside the senior center, RIOC will have water stations throughout the Island, and there will be food trucks in the parking lot just south of Lighthouse Park.
Though for many Islanders, this just wasn’t good enough.
One of them is Susana Del Campo Perea, a Roosevelt Landings resident whose concerns relate to the safety of her building, the 1003 apartment complex on the east side of the Island, the only one without a concierge. She said during the Cherry Blossom Festival, non-residents were seen wandering their hallways looking for restrooms.
Deputy Brown assured Del Campo that although no security would be stationed inside her building that they would have regular staff available to respond to calls.
What About Us?
Longtime Islander Sasha Ross expressed concern about hosting another large event after the fallout of the Cherry Blossom Festival. She said we are unlike Governor’s Island, Figment NYC’s former home, in that we are slightly smaller, inhabited, and much easier to get to. And, that the impact on residents is more significant than it would be in other New York City neighborhood, “It’s crazy that anyone is thinking of making us a tourist destination. We are an Island. You can’t make a left and go three blocks down to go to another train station or another neighborhood.”
She said, “The more you promote this Island and promote it in a way that we residents don’t feel safe, it’s ridiculous. What am I supposed to do? Keep my kids at home? Our quality of life is going down because people want to put a flag on us.” She said that on the day of the Cherry Blossom Festival her young daughter saw people urinating in the bushes and her son, was dropped off in an Uber in Queens and had to walk home from near the Ed Koch 59th Street Bridge. “If you lived on Roosevelt Island, you would understand a bit more,” said Ross.
Rosenthal responded that “If you truly don’t want us to permit this kind of event, you have the right to speak to your board of directors and have your opinions heard.” To that Ross said, “Do you think we believe in them? We’ve been yessed to death.”
Rosenthal countered, “It is not part of our mission or my purpose to throw large events. I was thrilled because it sounded like an extraordinary event. Let’s see how it goes before we trash it.”
Not everyone had complaints. Lydia Tang, a co-chair of the Cherry Blossom Festival Committee said she also believes Figment is special. She said “I applaud everyone’s effort to bring something special to the Island.”