Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Roosevelt Island: the Coolest Thing in New York City?

We went to New York City last weekend and we saw so much and walked so much- let's just say my blisters have blisters. I hardly know where to begin- it was 48 hours that could launch a thousand blog entries, I think.

So I'll just start chronologically: We arrived by bus at the Port Authority Bus Terminal on Friday night. The Port Authority is right next to Times Square so it's crazy to arrive from a Binghamton/bus trip bubble and emerge into the blinding insanity that is Times Square at night. Note: I swear it's not weird to take the bus in New York. There's no train service from Binghamton to NYC, and driving in the City is also crazy, so the bus is the preferred option (3 1/2 hours each way, $72 round trip, in case you are curious).

It was nearly 9 pm by the time we got checked into our hotel (which was awesome) and were ready to explore, but I had a plan, a destination- Roosevelt Island!!

You've never heard of Roosevelt Island? Well, unless you are a HUGE dork, you really have no reason to know about it. It is a small (I think 150 acres or so) skinny island wedged in the East River between Manhattan and Queens. It's just off-shore from the Upper East Side (which is posh) and it was known as Welfare Island until the 1970s.

Here's the history in a nutshell: State of NY buys it in the 1800s and uses it for various undesirable purposes. It has been home to an insane asylum, smallpox hospital, prison, almshouse . . . if no one wanted to live next door to it, they stuck it on the island, basically. There was some sort of limited bridge access through an industrial area of Queens, I think, but it wasn't open to the public, really. Who would want to go there, anyway? It was just a bunch of decaying institutions.

Then in the 1960s, the island became a living laboratory, of sorts. Some of the NY state and local urban planners decided to make a planned, socially engineered community. Gov. Rockefeller and the Mayor of NY argued about how to do it, but the upshot is that they put together a plan for a community made up of all income ranges and all ethnicities. There is Section 8 (federally subsidized) housing, income-limited (middle-class) housing, and even some "market rate" (non-subsidized) housing. There is even an apartment building that caters to UN employees (the UN is headquartered just across the river in Manhattan) so there's a huge mix of ethnicities and cultures.

The result is that, 40 years later, you have 10,000 people of all incomes and colors and cultures living on this island that is a 3 1/2 minute tram ride (they added the tram for commuter service in the 1970s- it runs every 15 minutes and costs $2) from Manhattan, and yet light years apart from the hustle and bustle and filth and crowds of the city.

You basically have Small Town, USA plopped right into the middle of the East River. With incredible views of Manhattan, to boot! There is some car access via some bridges that were added in the 1980s, and there's even a Subway stop now, but you still don't go there unless you have a reason to.

As you can imagine, with access limited like this, and with that small-town-island feel, crime is virtually non-existent. There are biking/jogging paths around the perimeter of the island, and a shuttle bus (cost $0.25) runs every 15 minutes in a loop around the island. "Around" isn't really accurate, since there's really just 1 street (you guessed it, "Main Street") that forms a spine on the island so the bus really runs up-and-down the island (and not "around").

The tram ride (which conveniently starts adjacent to my new favorite grocery store, underneath the Queensboro Bridge, that I recently gushed about) is one of the most incredible experiences ever- it's like a ski-left tram but instead of rising above the alps, you are floating amidst a sea of residential skyscrapers!! I can't find a photo of it at night, all lit-up, but it was just . . . indescribable. And definitely the best ride in town for $2.00!!!


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AMIT said...

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