Inspired by someone who’s disabled? You can soon honor that person with an inscribed paver at the FDR Hope Memorial.
For a limited time, Roosevelt Islanders will get first crack at the opportunity. Then, off-Islanders will get their chance.
The FDR Hope Memorial committee calls these inspirational disabled folks, “myFDR.” There’s a reason for that, says committee member Dr. Jack Resnick. “Roosevelt Island was named for FDR not because of his Four Freedoms speech or his Depression era achievements, but for his personal strength overcoming severe disability. Mayor Lindsay, when naming the community he designed as a model of an integrated disabled population, naturally turned to FDR, this country’s enduring symbol of triumph over physical adversity.”
Nancy Brown, Roosevelt Island Disabled Association (RIDA) Vice President explains, “To me, the statue of FDR sitting in a wheelchair is an inspiration. An inspiration also to the many boys and girls who will be visiting Roosevelt Island with their parents and seeing, for the very first time, the statue of President Roosevelt sitting in a wheelchair. Not many people, especially young people, are even aware that one of our most famous Presidents was actually disabled and used a wheelchair and, despite his disability, was able to achieve the highest office in the country, President of the United States! It will demonstrate to them that having a disability should not stop them from achieving success in any field they choose. They should follow their dreams and never give up.”
The completed memorial will show President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a wheelchair greeting a young girl as she approaches him. She holds both her crutches under one arm, and their hands are close to touching. It is a moment created to capture FDR’s can-do, can-overcome spirit as it is shared with a young polio victim. The sculptor, Meredith Bergmann, has drawn inspiration from FDR herself and admits to feeling his spiritual presence while she works. The project’s website is fdrhopememorial.org.
Dr. Resnick believes the Memorial is a powerful reminder of the history of Roosevelt Island. He says, “Roosevelt Island is the most successful example of an integrated community – not only by race, but by age, income, and level of disability. This history should be celebrated but, more importantly, it should be preserved. It should not be allowed to become history.”
“Roosevelt Island was designed as a planned community with housing set aside for people of different income levels, different ages, and different degrees of disability. In 1975, when New York was suffering from a financial crisis, the government turned to the Mitchell-Lama program to finance the housing,” explains Dr. Resnick, adding, “Mitchell Lama projects were funded by developers, who, after 30 years, could take their projects private and remove housing provisions meant to protect and provide for the elderly, disadvantaged, and disabled. Thirty years have passed. Eastwood [now Roosevelt Landings] has been privatized; and, as apartments become vacant, they are rented at market rate with no regard to income, age, and level of disability.”
Therefore, according to Dr. Resnick, “The FDR Hope Memorial of FDR in his wheelchair powerfully represents Mayor Lindsay’s original commitment to diversity of all kinds. It is my hope that the Memorial and the publicity surrounding its installation will function to remind politicians that something meaningful is being lost and that timely political action could save it.”
Committee Chair Marc Diamond explains that the “Public Design Commission (PDC) plans to issue a status report to the Parks [New York City Department of Parks and Recreation], and no presentation [to the PDC] will be required. Parks expects that report next week. We don’t know if changes will be suggested, or required.”
Diamond says, “The project has been allotted $150,000 by the City Council, to be administered by Parks. Parks looks to PDC regarding design issues so the status report could have an effect on the timing of the upcoming agreement between RIDA and Parks that will allow for that funding.”
“We first sent a draft of our PDC submission to Parks in December, revised it following their comments, and submitted to PDC in January for the February meeting. PDC asked for more information, which we provided in time for the March meeting, but they then asked for it differently, which was provided in time for the April meeting,” Diamond explained.
As for why Islanders are getting first dibs on dedicating pavers, Diamond says, “Islanders are first, primarily because they ought to know first about what’s going on on the Island – don’t we grumble when it works the other way? And also so that they won’t get shut out of the opportunity. There are many stones available so it’s unlikely an Islander would not be able to reserve a tribute, but it’s better to let Islanders know now rather than later.”