Main Street, Roosevelt Island, What Most Visitors Never See

Main Street, Roosevelt Island, What Most Visitors Never See

About the long-neglected tree beds on Main Street, a resident wrote, “They are first and foremost eyesores, and then safety hazards. It’s impossible to believe — No, wait – not impossible — the neglect going on this long.” We took a look around on the 4th of July weekend. Neglecting the center of town seems a RIOC habit.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Outside Blackwell House where RIOC is headquartered and near the New York State Shelton J. Haynes & Friends Parking Area, the exception proved the rule. The state knows how to do it right when they want to. Too often, though, they just don’t want to.

The point of tree beds on city sidewalks is to make the surroundings more attractive while providing a home for greenery. They should be welcoming places, an oasis in the middle of concrete and asphalt.

On Roosevelt Island, they’re neither. Instead, they’re an embarrassment, repositories for weeds, and – as one resident put it to us – “first and foremost eyesores, and then safety hazards.”

Young trees were planted by more conscientious crews, years ago. We’re pretty sure, the idea wasn’t to leave their beds to weeds and trip hazards. They look like hell on what should be an attractive space for walking.
Even in historic Good Shepherd Plaza, no one is motivated to trim the boarders while right across the walking space….
… a well-tended, sweetly designed display of flowing plants at Island House shows what can be when the effort is made – and the will exists.

We walked around on the 4th of July weekend to see for ourselves, confirming the neglect going on for years now.

Take a look at these pictures and see if you can spot the problem. It’s not just that the tree beds are full of weeds. It’s not just that they haven’t been planted in years.

Rudbeckia flowers overrun with weeds where a tree once grew – or was supposed to.

It’s that they’re a disgrace, an indictment of those responsible for Roosevelt Island’s public spaces.

And there are plenty of those. First, there’s the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, a state-run entity that is, in theory, responsible for the island’s physical plant. Then there are the Shops On Main and the Roosevelt Island Residents Association, both of which are supposed to be advocating for the island community.

A lonely Purple Heart Plant in an abandoned planter in Good Shepherd Plaza. When the plaza was upgraded, about ten years ago, planters were spaced throughout, adding color and texture. Now, they’ve been shoved together in bunches, mostly uncared for, left to nature.

Going the Other Way on the 4th

If not in population, then in attention, Roosevelt Island has tilted south over the last decade. With the opening of FDR Four Freedoms State Park, Southpoint and Cornell Technion, eyes turned away from the community core on Main Street.

Petunias: Planted, then left to weeds.

The Main Street Canyon is where the town started, and it’s still where most people live. This makes the neglect stark. And it tells us why subway and Tram riders visiting Roosevelt Island, for the 4th of July and the rest of the year, immediately turn south.

Perhaps the most obvious is the empty tree bed outside the dry cleaners. Not so much as weeds, let alone a tree, to steer pedestrians away. A number of lawsuits about mistakes like this where people fall and bones are broken hit RIOC every year. But it doesn’t inspire better behavior because guess who foots the bills…? You do. Injures caused by poor management just get added on to your taxes.
At Good Shepherd Plaza where it meets Main Street, dead plants in a planter during the greenest season. The Chapel in the background is an historic landmark.

Few ever see the landmark community that changed New York City’s urban focus and helped drag it out from its worst days in the 1960s and ’70s.

We saved the “best” image for last. Not through neglect but with deliberate intent, RIOC’s alleged Public Safety brain trust blocks off a fire hydrant with ugly metal fencing. The goal of the fencing? To prevent anyone else from blocking the fire hydrant. This isn’t just an obstacle in the face of an emergency, it’s stupid. Sure the trip hazards, the debris and deteriorating signs are all there, but so is something worse. Public Safety’s deep thinkers appear to have it in for Bread & Butter Deli. This mess is amateur punishment handed out against a local business that doesn’t fit the profile. And it puts limbs as well as lives needlessly at risk.

But as we made our way north, starting at the well-appointed New York State Shelton J. Haynes & Friends Parking Area, the story was more than tree beds abandoned.

From Blackwell House to Westview, we saw an unbroken chain of neglect. Even though a tough resilient community still came out to dine at Nisi, the rawness of Main Street stands out. It’s as if RIOC hung out a sign: Don’t Come Back… if you wandered this far away from the main event in the first place.

Conclusion: When Community Managers Neglect Urban Spaces

The neglect is especially striking because it’s so unnecessary. With just a little care, the center of town could be a showplace, a jewel in Roosevelt Island’s crown, an attraction for residents and visitors alike. Instead, it’s an embarrassment that says much about those responsible for its upkeep.

What do you think? How would you rate the job being done by those responsible for Roosevelt Island’s public spaces? Let us know in the comments.

Pitch in for independent reporting on Roosevelt Island.

Thank you.

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