The RIRA Column

May 9, 2015

Jeffrey Escobar, President
Roosevelt Island Residents Association
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On Saturday, April 25, our little ship in the East River welcomed nearly 4,000 Island neighbors, friends, family members, and visitors to the annual RIRA Cherry Blossom Festival. Some came for the Family Picnic at Southpoint Park, and many more came for the afternoon of performances at Four Freedoms Park, and calligraphy and arts classes at Gallery RIVAA. Many thanks to our Island partners – Four Freedoms Park, Roosevelt Landings Management Co., the Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association, the Roosevelt Island Historical Society, the Roosevelt Island Youth Program at Beacon, RY Management, Shops on Main, Hudson/Related Company, the Child’s School and Legacy High School, Manhattan Park, and RIOC – for helping RIRA sponsor the event, and to the RIRA Social, Cultural & Educational Services Committee, led by Chair Lynne Strong Shinozaki and assisted by members Lydia Tang and Julia Palermo, for putting together another memorable occasion, and for keeping alive the Festival and the vision of its founder, Junko Hasegawa. Since Japanese tradition holds that coming upon a cherry blossom at the peak of its bloom brings its finder the greatest of luck, the perfect timing of this year’s festival with the peak of the blooming of our cherry blossom trees is an auspicious omen indeed. If you missed the Festival, or haven’t had the chance to see the splendor of our trees, please make sure to visit them throughout the Island, particularly in the southern part – they are truly a sight to see.

Participatory Budgeting

Some of that luck may have touched PS/IS 217 and their bid for an educational Green Roof for our Island’s 543 public school children. Over the course of 10 days last month, more than 2,140 Island residents and Upper East Side neighbors voted in this year’s Participatory Budgeting. We were lucky enough to have two of our Island’s community initiatives on this year’s ballot, and our Green Roof at PS/IS 217 received 845 votes, the most district-wide. The other Island initiative (an audio induction loop system for our branch of the New York Public Library) came in a very close third with 741 votes – barely beaten out by the rooftop outdoor play space and greenhouse at PS 151 on East 86th Street (754 votes). Congratulations to PS/IS 217 and its supporters – including the PTA, Brownie and Girl Scout troops 3001 and 3244, the Roosevelt Island Garden Club, and the Roosevelt Island Parents’ Network – for their efforts in getting out the vote. The success of the Green Roof initiative for the school and the audio induction looping for the library in securing the largest and third-largest numbers of votes in the district is a testament to the dedication and pride that our community takes in bettering the lives of all who live here, young and old, able and challenged. Moreover, the success of the two initiatives should remind us of the power that each of us has when we choose to exercise our rights to participate and vote. We look forward to re-supporting both programs should they make it onto next year’s ballot. (The funding awarded to the Green Roof is only part of what’s needed.)

Shooting Incident

Despite the community’s striving to work together, and its successes, we still face many challenges in keeping a peaceful oasis of families and caring in a city that can be cold and uncompassionate. This was never more evident than in the recent shooting on the afternoon of April 25 in our Roosevelt Landings complex. While many on the Island were coming together that afternoon to celebrate the community at the Cherry Blossom Festival, a few chose to use violence against others, and disrupt that sense of community. Illegal activities, violence, and firearms should never be factors in our tiny space, especially in a population with so many families, children, and infirm individuals. The events of the 25th were disturbing – and disrespectful – to not only the residents of Roosevelt Landings, but to all of us who call this Island home. On a personal note, unlike others who have classified the incident on the 25th an isolated event, I would argue that no incident involving a firearm and its use on our Island is an isolated event – when such a thing happens here, it affects each of us.

Do I, or the RIRA Common Council, have answers to the troubling incident? No, not any more than anyone else. But we, like you, are searching for both answers and solutions to the security of our neighbors in Roosevelt Landings and to everyone everywhere on the Island. This begins with my calling on our Public Safety Committee to hold a community meeting of residents and all the other stakeholders directly involved – including RIOC, Public Safety, NYPD, Urban American, Brookfield Properties, Council Member Ben Kallos, State Senator Jose Serrano, and Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright – to voice our concerns and frustrations about not only the recent shootings, but also the recent increase in disturbances and incidents here. The hope is that such a gathering and airing of issues can result in a thoughtful, coordinated plan of action. A community cannot heal itself through the efforts of one or a few, but through the indivisible efforts of many. As we organize the event, please keep your eye out for more details – and continue the debate and public cry for action. As our Island has seen time and time again, change can best be addressed by the efforts of each and every one of us, as past, present, and future stewards and inhabitants of our little ship floating in the East River.

Patrick Stewart

On behalf of the members of the RIRA Common Council, I send our gratitude and heartfelt condolences to the family of Patrick Stewart. As a former RIRA President and one of the RIRA inaugural members, he was a beloved and passionate leader and advocate for the Island and its residents. I had the pleasure of serving with him on Community Board 8 for his last couple of years as a member, and we worked together on various Island issues. His dedication to the Island, love of its residents, and mission to preserve our way of life will be missed, and will not be forgotten.

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