The De-Greening of Roosevelt Island 2023, and Now the Hunt for Cornel West

The De-Greening of Roosevelt Island 2023, and Now the Hunt for Cornel West

No matter how RIOC phrases the annual de-greening of Roosevelt Island – this year, it’s remediation – it always raises questions, ones never answered. And bad memories. This year, though, the exercise includes some unintentional humor along with the expected stupid gaffes.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

First, the good news.

“…the corporation has planted 183 new trees since 2020,” the RIOC advisory notes. That’s great news, but it’s mitigated by a couple of things.

The plantings, for one thing, resulted largely from the efforts of Judith Berdy, but RIOC failed to give her any credit. There’s a word for hogging the spotlight.

The second thing is that the state agency never explained severe environmental abuse in previous years, making this communication a one-sided commercial for their efforts.

Here’s what was left of a century-old, perfectly healthy red maple along Main Street last year. RIOC never explained, of course, leading to plausible speculation that it was all about opening a river view that enhanced the value of Southtown condos.

De-Greening with a Goofy Twist

With two highly paid, alleged communications specialists – Bryant Daniels ($130k/yr) and Akeem Jamal ($150k/yr) – you’d expect at least one capable of becoming familiar with Roosevelt Island basics.

Here’s the public list of trees that must be destroyed this year.

  • Location: East Esplanade (Near Cornell Tech, 2 Trees)
  • Location: West Esplanade (South, near Southpoint Park)
  • Location: West Esplanade (South, near Cornell West)
  • Location: Firefighter’s Field (next to dog run)
  • Location: Pony Field (East Side)
  • Location: McManus Field (West Side)

Shouldn’t they know, by now, that we have “Promenades,” not “Esplanades?”

When I first started covering Roosevelt Island as a reporter, my editor drilled this into me – or maybe shoved it out of me. He wasn’t kidding around.

It was almost a religious conviction: Roosevelt Island is unique, and its promenades were a founding inspiration. Don’t mess it up.

Get with it, guys. At least pretend you’re familiar with the community showering you with unearned cash.

It’s fantastical, but just imagine if, once in a while, they actually talked with residents? Imagine…

Sometimes, you gotta laugh in spite of yourself…

Renowned scholar, activist and current presidential candidate, Cornel West.

Another feature of this list you may have missed – I did the first time – involves the location of item #3.

“Location: West Esplanade (South, near Cornell West)”

I searched all along the West but was unable to locate the unmistakable figure of Cornel West.

“In these catastrophic times we need visionary and courageous presidential leadership that goes beyond the corruption and platitudes of the failed establishment!” Doctor West has said.

Clued in to his whereabouts by RIOC’s helpful advisory, I looked forward to striking up a conversation and doing a lot of listening. The man’s over six feet tall. Hard to miss near that dead tree.

But I was disappointed. Dead trees I found but not the status quo shaker with Harvard and Princeton creds.

The “Remediation” Project

RIOC is deep into alternative speak, that is, using other words to clean things up. Calling the destruction of trees “remediation” makes it sound nicer, doesn’t it?

“This year’s inspection resulted in 7 trees that warranted further attention…” Hint: By “further attention,” they mean taking them out for good.

Maybe some of their hesitation in saying things straight comes from dodging the previous years’ major gaffes. We showed you the cruelly destroyed red maple from 2022 – still waiting for an explanation, guys – but each year has its horror stories.

De-Greening 2021, the Year They Went After the Cherry Trees

Fortunately, a concerned Roosevelt Islander, Rose Klein called in panic. “They’re cutting down the cherry trees,” she said.

Ending lunch abruptly and racing outside, I found this:

November 2021.

“What are you guys doing?”

“Pruning,” a man in a RIOC outfit claimed.

The destruction all around was intense. No supervision on site.


“To save their life,” he said.

Actually, it was the opposite. They stopped after being challenged, but the group attacked, about ten trees, remains stunted in contrast to their unmolested neighbors.

No conscientious landscaper prunes fruit trees in November because it doesn’t give them time to recover before winter. And you never prune to save lives, you prune to sculpt and shape, and you never go at it like this.

Then, there’s this…

This victim of the “pruning” is on this year’s remediation list.

“There is no chance of new growth or re-sprouting,” the advisory claims, but that’s not true. Because I’ve tracked the impact of the ugly 2021 event, I saw this tree sprouting tiny new branches with fresh leaves this year.

I remembered it as I explained to a friend how it showed the “incredible resiliency of trees.”

RIOC does not appreciate that.

And in 2020, COVID-19 Couldn’t Stop RIOC

RIOC hacked the life out of a longstanding, shady growth of inkberry trees from Eleanor’s Pier to the Meditation Steps.



The slowly recovering inkberry trees now suffer another RIOC trait: Neglect. Thistle and other invasive plants mar the rallying of these trees after three years.


Until there’s some accountability and transparency from RIOC, dread over each annual de-greening will persist. Management hasn’t shown the maturity needed for talking honestly and openly with the community.

We keep watching for it, but when we see yet another round of imaginary “Esplanades,” we’re reminded how little progress has been made.

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