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Roosevelt Island, Manhattan, 10030

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Roosevelt Island, formerly known as Welfare Island (from 1921 to 1973), and before that Blackwell's Island, is a narrow island in the East River of New York City. It lies between the island of Manhattan to its west and the borough of Queens to its east. Running from Manhattan's East 46th to East 85th streets, it is about two miles long, with a maximum width of 800 feet (240 m), and a total area of 147 acres. The island is part of the Borough of Manhattan and New York County. Together with Mill Rock, Roosevelt Island constitutes New York County's Census Tract 238, which has a land area of 0.279 sq mi. and had a population of 9,520 in 2000 according to the US Census. The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation estimated its population was about 12,000 in 2007. The land is owned by the city, but was leased to the State of New York's Urban Development Corporation for 99 years in 1969. Most of the residential buildings on Roosevelt Island are rental buildings. There is also a cooperative (Rivercross) and a condominium building (Riverwalk Place). One rental building (Eastwood) has left New York State's Mitchell-Lama Housing Program, though current residents are still protected. Three other buildings are now working toward privatization, including the cooperative.



Though small, Roosevelt Island has a distinguished architectural history. It has several architecturally significant buildings, and has been the site of numerous important unbuilt architectural competitions and proposals.


The island's master plan, adopted by the New York State Urban Development Corporation in 1969, was developed by the firm of Philip Johnson and John Burgee. The plan divided the island into three residential communities, and is noteworthy because it forbade the use of automobiles on the island; the plan intended for residents to park their cars in a large garage and use public transportation to get around. Another innovation was the plan's development of a 'mini-school system,' in which classrooms for the island's public intermediate school were distributed among all the residential buildings in a campus-like fashion (as opposed to being centralized in one large building).


The first phase of Roosevelt Island's development was called "Northtown." It consists of four housing complexes: Westview, Island House, Rivercross, and Eastwood (also known as the WIRE buildings). Rivercross is a Mitchell-Lama co-op, while the rest of the buildings in Northtown are rentals. Eastwood, the largest apartment complex on the island, and Westview were designed by noted architect Josep Lluis Sert, then dean of Harvard Graduate School of Design. Eastwood, along with Peabody Terrace (in Cambridge, Massachusetts), is a prime example of Sert's investigations into high-rise multiple-dwelling residential buildings. It achieves a remarkable level of efficiency by triple-loading corridors with duplex apartment units, such that elevators and public corridors are only needed every three floors. Island House and Rivercross were designed by Johansen & Bhavnani. The two developments were noteworthy for their use of pre-fabricated cladding systems.


Subsequent phases of the island's development have been less innovative, architecturally. Northtown Phase II was developed by the Starrett Corporation and designed by the firm, Gruzen Samton, in a pseudo-historical post-modern style. It was completed in 1989, over a decade after Northtown. Southtown, also designed by Gruzen Samton, is the third phase of the island's development. It was not started until 1998, and is still in the process of development.


As of January 2008, Buildings 1, 2, 3 and 4 have been completed. Buildings 5 and 6 are currently under construction. Residential development of Southtown has brought new retail businesses to Roosevelt Island, including a Starbucks and a Duane Reade. Roosevelt Island, which is known for its limited variety of restaurants, has also gained two new restaurants as a result of Southtown development: Nonno's Foccaceria and Fiji East.


The Octagon, one of the island’s six landmarks, was restored in 2006. Originally designed by Alexander Jackson Davis in 1839 as the New York Lunatic Asylum, the national landmark and LEED Silver green building is now a high-end apartment community and also houses a small shopping mall. It also houses the largest array of solar panels on any building in New York City.


In addition to Louis Kahn's Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, the island has also been the site of numerous other architectural speculations. Rem Koolhaas and the Office of Metropolitan Architecture proposed two projects for the Island in his book "Delirious New York": the Welfare Island Hotel and the Roosevelt Island Redevelopment Proposal (both in 1975-76). That proposal was Koolhaas's entry into a competition held for the development of Northtown Phase II. Other entrants included Peter Eisenman, Robert A. M. Stern, and Oswald Mathias Ungers.


In 2006, ENYA (Emerging New York Architects) made the island's abandoned southern end the subject of one of its annual competitions.






Although Roosevelt Island is located directly under the Queensboro Bridge, it is not directly accessible from the bridge itself. A trolley used to connect passengers from Queens and Manhattan to a stop in the middle of the bridge, where passengers took an elevator down to the island. The trolley operated from the bridge's opening until April 7, 1957. Between 1930 and 1955, the only vehicular access to the island was provided by an elevator system in the Elevator Storehouse that transported cars and commuters between the bridge and the island. The elevator was closed to the public after the construction of the Roosevelt Island Bridge between the island and Astoria in 1955, and was finally demolished in 1970.


In 1976, the Roosevelt Island Tramway was constructed to provide access to Midtown Manhattan. New York City Subway access via the IND 63rd Street Line finally arrived in 1989. Located over 100 feet below ground level, the Roosevelt Island station is one of the deepest in New York City's subway system.




Roosevelt Island's residential community was not designed to support automobile traffic during its planning in the early 1970s. Automobile traffic has become common even though much of the island remains a car-free area. The MTA Bus Company Q102 route operating between the island and Astoria obviates the need for automobiles to some extent.


The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) operates an on-island shuttle bus service from apartment buildings to the subway and tramway for a fare of 25¢ (10¢ for seniors and disabled people). The bright red buses are highly visible.


Waste on Roosevelt Island is collected by an Automated Vacuum Collection System. This is the only AVAC system serving a residential complex in the USA.


As of the 2000 census, Roosevelt Island had a population of 9,520. Fifty-two percent of the population (4,995)were female, and 4,525, or 48%, were male. The population was spread out with 5% under the age of 5, 20% under the age of 18, 67% between the ages of 18 and 65, and 15% over the age of 65.


The racial makeup of the island was 45% white (non-Hispanic), 27% black, 11% Asian or Pacific Islander, and .3% other races. 14% were Hispanics or Latinos of any race.


The median income was $49,976. 37% had an income under $35,000. 40% had incomes between $35,001 and $99,999, and 23% had an income over $100,000.


55% of the total households were family households, and 45% were non-family households. 17% of the residents were married couples with children, and 19% were married couples without children. 36% of the households were one-person households, and 9% were two or more non-family households. 3% were male-based households with related and unrelated children, and 16% were female-based households with related and unrelated children.


Since 2000, demographics have likely shifted. In April 2006, The Octagon, a 500-unit luxury rental building, opened its doors. Many young, affluent tenants occupy the studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom units.[citation needed] 100 of the units therein are set aside for middle-income residents. Also in 2006, a multi-building luxury condominium called Riverwalk completed construction of its first buildings.


The United States Postal Service operates the Roosevelt Island Station at 694 Main Street.


Roosevelt Island, as with all parts of New York City, is served by the New York City Department of Education.


Residents are zoned to P.S. 217/I.S. 217 Roosevelt Island School. The Child School and Legacy High School serve K–12 special needs children with learning and emotional disabilities.


New York Public Library operates the Roosevelt Island Branch at 524 Main Street.


Roosevelt Island has its own community newspaper, The Main Street WIRE, founded in 1979 and published fortnightly. Volunteers deliver the newspaper to every residential door in the community.


The newspaper confines its coverage to Roosevelt Island matters, reporting on community concerns ignored by other New York City media, including issues that arise by virtue of Roosevelt Island being a community within New York City which is operated by the State (not the City) of New York, with a local "authority" called the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) in charge. For several years, The WIRE has editorialized in favor of a stronger element of elected home rule for the community, and various small steps have been taken in that general direction. Most recently, the Residents Association (RIRA) has been in the process of mounting an election which will serve to nominate members to the Board of Directors of the RIOC. The Governor will retain the final nominating power, however.


The WIRE derives its name from the first four residential buildings constructed on Roosevelt Island: Westview, Island House, Rivercross, and Eastwood. Current and back issues are on line at http://nyc10044.com.









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