Alex Marshall
Alex Marshall

It’s nearly Thanksgiving, the world is at sixes and sevens, the Mets lost the World Series – and what exactly do we have to be thankful for on Roosevelt Island?

Well, let’s see... to start with, there’s Main Street. Yes, it’s true that if you look up to see what’s happening on all that scaffolding you risk falling into one of ConEd’s gas main earthworks, or being run over by a giant cement mixer on the back of a Cornell Tech construction truck. And you can’t drop off your old clothes at the Thrift Shop, because it’s gone; nor find a dusty screwdriver at the hardware, because that’s gone, too. And it’s no use looking for paper and an envelope to write a complaining letter to RIOC because there’s no stationery store any more. Forget dropping into Trellis for a cheering coffee because... you see a pattern here?

All this is true, and it isn’t going to get any better before the holidays, so get used to it. You’re also going to have to put up with ridiculous crowds at rush hours on the subway and ridiculous crowds on the Tram at all hours because that’s just the way it is. And the elevator on the Manhattan side still doesn’t work.

Speaking of things that don’t work, the AVAC garbage system is back – but for how long? It needs a thorough overhaul, something to do with getting worn out by all the garbage it has to handle, just like the rest of us when we reach 40. Everybody agrees on that – but there is some holdup at RIOC. (And you can’t get paper and an envelope to write a complaining letter to RIOC because...)

Of course RIOC isn’t exactly a model of democratic governance, or even Democratic governance. No one knows how the board is appointed – or rather everyone knows but there’s no point complaining because...

But southward look, the sky is bright... Well, actually, it isn’t, because the new Southtown buildings are blocking the light. Which, of course, will mean more Tram and subway passengers. As will Cornell, because whatever anyone says about reverse commuting, all those people will be going back and forth to Whole Foods on Second Avenue because Gristedes is relapsing into its bad old ways of ignoring sell-by dates and customers alike.

And there’s crime. According to the NYPD, robberies doubled between 2014 and 2015 – from 1 to 2. That included the mailman whose scanning device was stolen. Who would want to do a thing like that?

All this is true, more or less – and so are a bunch of other things like, where did all the middle-class housing go? According to the 2010 census, our median income was $76,250. In 2000 it was $49,976. That’s mostly the new buildings – but Roosevelt Landings (which we still call Eastwood) is slipping gently into market-rate territory, and you know what the man said: “The rents are too damn high!”

But wasn’t this supposed to be a Thanksgiving piece? Sorry, got sidetracked there for a minute. On the thanks side, some of us are really thankful that Roosevelt Island remains one of the most diverse communities in the city. According to the 2010 census, 54.4 percent identified as White; 23.7 percent African-American or Black; 14.9 percent Hispanic; 20.0 percent Asian; 0.6 percent Native or Pacific Islander; and 5.4 percent other. Nearly half of us were born somewhere else. The Roosevelt Island School (PS/IS 217) has kids from 60 countries – among them, some third-generation Roosevelt Islanders. Perhaps the Island should have its own census category.

Actually, the school is something to be thankful for. Looking one way, the school accepts students from way over in Queens as well as from the Island, making it one of the most diverse schools in the city. Looking another way, as part of Department of Education District 2, it’s lumped in with some of the poshest parts of Manhattan, with some of the highest-performing schools. And in this company, the school is holding its own, according to this year’s scores from the Department of Education, improving especially in math and ELA (that’s English Language Arts – because everything has to have an acronym).

PS/IS 217 will soon do all this under a green roof. What is a green roof? Well, you know, it’s about ecology. Climate change, all that. No, really. The completed project will include things like shaded space for kids to work, gardening education, a hub for weather and air quality data, renewable energy experiments. Fact is, the school got out the vote, in an off year too. Supporters won $500,000 of funding under the city’s Participatory Budget program, about a third of the total cost. You might say they “got the green.” We have some awesome educators, and parents too.

So change is all around, but Roosevelt Island is still its own place. Things happen differently on Main Street. Soon – at least some time in the foreseeable – the sheds and scaffolding will come down. Westview will have its façade fixed, and new windows too – and, as we all know, appearances are everything. And, after a decade of wrangling with the ownership, Island House and (if all goes well) Westview will become co-op and stay affordable – just. There will be gas lines that work, adding a feed from Manhattan to supplement the one from Queens. (Even the gas is going upscale.) Main Street will come back, better than... well, better than now, for sure.

As for shops – who needs shops? As of this year, we have Island Wines and Spirits – after a 5-year hiatus we can finally get happy without going to, maybe, Queens. And if you really want a coffee shop, you can pay for it yourself at Trellis crowdsourcing:

If, after all this, you still want to get off Main Street without risking your life on the F train, there’s going to be a ferry service in 2017. OK, it’ll go to Queens first, and then to 34th Street, right around the corner from the Midtown Tunnel (in case you find you miss Queens). There’s even, maybe sometime, going to be a pedestrian bridge. OK, it’ll go to Queens, of course, but what do you want? You want to walk to Bloomie’s?

So we have a lot, or anyway some, to be thankful for. Hey, the Mets won the pennant, the new and spacious Tram has never (yet) broken down, and Island Kids finally got some scholarship money. And if you’re not happy they didn’t get more, you can share your grief with RIOC – by email. It’s This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tags: Island Observer

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