Community renewal is the biggest issue facing the Island today. Cornell might be the biggest game-changer, but we have to get our affairs in order as a community so we can best partner with Cornell and be most able to maximize its benefits.
In order to do that, we have to look in the mirror and be honest about what we see. How much energy do we have, and where do we want to spend it? What kind of community experience do we want?
The pioneer generation who created the Roosevelt Island Residents Association, the Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance, the Main Street WIRE, and many of the other groups on the Island is aging. More than that, they are wringing their hands, hoping for succession, hoping their vision of community is sustained. They may not get their wish or they may get their wish in a form they don’t expect.
A New Year is a good time for a shift of perspective and a good time to appreciate that the future might not look like the past and that’s okay. These pioneers want to step down with their organizations’ boards packed and bank accounts full, but no matter how large the public purpose disbursements may be, if the organizations are only running because of the efforts of the old guard, there is no certain future.
Instead an honest accounting must be made of who we are, what we have left, what best to invest in. We have a disparate population – living in different types of housing with different kinds of connection to this place, which determine how much time must be spent working off Island to afford to live here. With that might come some resentment. With that might come a feeling of entitlement.
We are hardwired to find human connection. But perhaps there are evolving ideas of where to find community and different ways of expressing community that are not represented in our organizations. Maybe online communities work better. Maybe many Islanders have very active communities at work so they are not utilizing what is here because they aren’t here for that. Maybe a more generalized concept of membership, like the classpass model, would work better for a lot of people. Maybe Facebook and Facetime make face-to-face contact less necessary for that connection we all crave. Maybe FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) makes committing to meetings impossible.
Or maybe newcomers, never having known our Island as it once was, revel in the shredded remains, unaware of what they missed by arriving late to the party.
Older residents might feel that without the courtesy of an announcement, our community has become like many other New York neighborhoods. Real-estate values and maneuvers dominate the fabric of life. Merchants arrive with their minds set all the more on commerce and all the less on community. But maybe they just need to look closer, reach out, and listen, to recognize that community means something new today.