Four Freedoms Reimagined
The 75th anniversary of FDR’s Four Freedoms speech was celebrated earlier this year. In 2012, when I moved back to the Island, I was excited about being able to run through a part of the Island that had been off-limits when I was growing up. During those early runs and the many since, I have often thought about the Four Freedoms as reimagined for today’s Roosevelt Island.
The first is the freedom to be able to live here if you choose. Roosevelt Island is no longer that place with the middle class rents and upper class views. Our General Development Plan was clear and specified the percentage of fair market housing, 25% in Northtown, and 40-60% of Southtown; the rest of the Island, the majority, was supposed to be affordable housing. Our housing was predicated on the principals of Senator MacNeil Mitchell and Assemblyman Alfred Lama. The program named for them kept the Island affordable for a few decades. Now we are guided by fair market value, Cushman & Wakefield, Hudson/Related and the almighty dollar.
The second freedom is to be a true democracy. Sadly, our Island is run by Albany. It is an absentee, not an indigenous, government. Our Island is State-controlled land and RIOC is a State authority. We don’t vote for RIOC President, yet it’s RIOCs trucks and RIOCs snowplows that we see outside. We can go to a RIOC Board meeting and air grievances but RIOC doesn’t have to listen to, agree, or vote on our suggestions, despite the impact their choices have on us. That’s pretty much all the say we get over our public spaces, the maintenance of the Island, and the choices RIOC makes.
The third freedom is to send our kids to school here. It’s one thing to choose not to go to the school down the street. It’s another thing not to get a seat in it. Undue hardship doesn’t begin to express travel with a four-year-old during rush hour. In the winter. With a baby in tow. It’s not like there’s a free bus to transport your child to that one school that had a seat, located in Chinatown. You have to get your kid there. And then you have to arrange for your kid to get home. It’s a lot to ask. Suddenly, Universal Pre-K doesn’t seem so universal.
The fourth freedom is the freedom to engage our neighbors so that together we can fulfill the dream of Roosevelt Island. That dream has, as its ultimate goal, a rich tapestry of different economic backgrounds, cultures, and religions coexisting and collaborating in an enriching and meaningful way. For this fourth freedom to be realized, there must be a hospitable climate – affordable housing, democracy, and a public school seat.
While only one lease was signed in 2015 (Creche du Monde daycare), and there remain many empty storefronts which could and should be filled with needed goods and services, there has been progress made under Hudson/Related as landlord. Wholesome Factory, Island Spirits, Subway, Main Street Sweets, and the long-awaited Urgent Care are all products of Hudson/Related. The new arcades and upgrades of the deli, Gristedes, and, fingers crossed that they open soon, Trellis are all attributable to Hudson/Related.
The New York Public Library and the Catholic parish will both move to 504 Main Street and anticipate opening in 2017, all on Hudson/Related’s watch.
We still have a lot of need; who wouldn’t want to get a good burrito or some Thai food without having to take the Tram, but it is very possible that as Cornell’s move-in date gets closer, so will more of the goods and services we want and need also move-in.