Edward Logue’s Roosevelt Island

Diversity That Lasted

Edward Logue’s Roosevelt Island isn’t exactly what we see today, but it’s close. Ed Logue? You’ve probably heard of Louis Kahn, designer of Four Freedoms Park. And maybe Phillip Johnson’s masterplan that’s still in place. But Ed Logue hired both, and he’s the guy who renamed Welfare Island after FDR.

Edward Logue's Roosevelt Island, Main Street Canyon from Rivercross north.
Originally, Logue wanted Roosevelt Island to have sweeping river views. Fiscal reality reduced that to the narrow, but friendly canyon of WIRE buildings.

A new book by Harvard professor Lizabeth Cohen about Logue sees Roosevelt Island as his Utopia. In a recent visit, reported in the Commercial Observer, Cohen considers how he’d feel about what became of it.

Edward Logue took on Roosevelt Island after Robert Moses failed twice at developing the two mile slice of Manhattan schist. He had big ideas.

Hired by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller to lead the Urban Development Corp., Logue set his mind on social integration statewide. He failed with most of it, especially the hated Nine Towns plan for integrating Westchester County, but Roosevelt Island stands as his finest achievement.

Logue came to New York after rebuilding Hartford’s city center — now considered an ambitious failure — and mapping out a vision for Boston that replaced decrepit Scollay Square with Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market and a government center.

The Boston thing was a mixed bag. Everyone (including me) loves Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, but the government center is thought of as overreach on a mammoth scale.

Edward Logue and Roosevelt Island

City Lab takes a broader view:

“(Logue) led major urban-renewal projects on the East Coast from the 1950s into the 1980s, combining Robert Moses-like ambition with a deep commitment to progressive New Deal values.” 

City Lab
Why “Fair Share” Housing Failed

“We have to face directly, in any way we can, the proposition that until the nation decides that low-income black people can have a place to live that they can afford, a place to send their children to school, outside Cleveland, outside Boston, we are just kidding ourselves.”

Ed Logue, in a speech one month after taking over UDC

He was talking about integrating Westchester County. His Nine Towns plan hit huge roadblocks and was doomed.

But with Roosevelt Island, Edward Logue brought the same fair housing ideas and succeeded. Conditionally.

Lizabeth Cohen takes a walk on Main Street

Cohen, who spent 14 years researching and writing  Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age, joined Commercial Observer for a look at Roosevelt Island today.

Her insightful observations are mixed with others, including those from the clueless as ever Related Companies.

Hudson’s Alex Kaplan gets close to the optimism many Roosevelt Islanders still share.

Main Street canyon, looking south from Island House. Roosevelt Landings, left, sold recently for $1.1 billion. You can see how Southtown, at the far end, breaks the canyon, returning to Logue’s vision of sweeping river views.

“There’s sort of a natural check-and-balance philosophy to the place,” Kaplan told the Commercial Observer. “It’s a true public-private partnership. That’s part of what has made it so successful.”

“So successful” is debatable. Many locals disagree, but that may be as much nostalgia as realism.

Except for the epic flop of Main Street Retail, Hudson’s been a better than you’d expect community partner. Under president David Kramer, they’ve worked toward increasing affordability in Southtown. That’s more impressive when you understand that RIOC, weak in the knees in the company of real estate developers, would not insist on it.

Roosevelt Island: “…an ever-lonelier relic of an era when governments weren’t shy about building big things.”

Cohen “…grimaced at seeing that some of the developers’ newest construction, such as a project called Riverwalk Point, had an off-street drive for cars.”

“This feels really different, doesn’t it?” she asked, approaching the development. “Because there were no cars originally. There was no sense that you’d be arriving in a vehicle. It was just going to be, ‘You’re going to approach the building as a pedestrian.’ ”

Private developers were not in Edward Logue’s Roosevelt Island plan.

But seeing historic sites still intact pleased her.

Logue envisioned the Chapel of the Good Shepherd as a community space, exactly what it’s become.

And she wondered how Logue’s integration ideal turned out and was pleased at an actively diverse schoolyard at PS/IS 217.

Edward Logue’s Roosevelt Island and Developers.

“Our development, at the end of the day, is additive to the original,” Frank Monterisi, a Related Companies executive, told the Commercial Observer. “You look at Roosevelt Island and say, from the original thought, how can there be further development brought to the island to make it better?”

That’s a developer’s point of view, not that of anyone living here. Roosevelt Island’s pioneers wanted more of the same, and market rate rentals weren’t “better.”

Further development was in the master plan, but the Manhattan level rents were not.

Even so, it can’t be denied that, overall, market driven housing brought more diversity than Logue anticipated.

It’s just different diversity.

One thing stressing a disconnect locals recognize is reflected in Monterisi’s reported belief that “the island’s community is as strong as ever.”

That’s wrong. Roosevelt Island may be more diverse, but it’s far from strong.

It once was. It stood up to RIOC and forced out Gov. George Pataki’s president Jerome Blue.

Roosevelt Island in Fine Art…

More to learn about Roosevelt Island

These days, it’s fragmented, different than Edward Logue hoped for the place he named Roosevelt Island.

But times and people change. Community spirit can swell, and new leaders can inspire unified purpose.

That should make the next ten years interesting.

We will do well to keep Edward Logue’s vision in mind.

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2 Comments

  1. Very Interesting! You know I’ve lived in the USA and I’ve been to a few or more states. Northern NY several times but yet I’ve never made it to NY City. It is on my bucket list though.

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