Dreaming: Edward Logue’s Roosevelt Island, Then and Now


Edward Logue’s Roosevelt Island doesn’t match exactly with what we see today, but it’s in the ballpark.. But who was Ed Logue? You’ve probably heard of Louis Kahn, designer of Four Freedoms Park. And maybe Philip Johnson whose masterplan steers Roosevelt Island’s development. Ed Logue hired both, and he’s also the guy who renamed Welfare Island after FDR.

By David Stone

Roosevelt Island Daily News

Originally, Logue wanted Roosevelt Island to have sweeping river views. Fiscal reality reduced that to the narrow, but friendly canyon of WIRE buildings.

Edward Logue and Roosevelt Island

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 tackled developing Roosevelt Island after Robert Moses failed twice. He had big ideas.

How New York City Was Made by Water

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

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

Boston was a mixed bag. Everyone loves Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, but the government center not so much. It’s an overreach on a mammoth scale.

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
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“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

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

But for 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 the Commercial Observer for a look at Roosevelt Island today.

Her observations are mixed with others.

Hudson-Related built and manages Southtown, and 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. Looking south, you 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-Related’s been a better than you’d expect community partner. Guided by Hudson president David Kramer, they’ve worked toward increasing affordability in Southtown.

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

But 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.’ ”

But seeing historic sites still intact pleased her. And our community garden would too, if she saw it.

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 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.

More to know 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.

Also from the roosevelt island daily news

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  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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