Earlier this week, NYU announced a plan to house 58 faculty members on Roosevelt Island. As a student who lived on Roosevelt Island all of last year, I can’t say that I’m surprised.
Roosevelt Island is quite an interesting place. The tiny island lies in the East River halfway between Manhattan and Queens, but it feels like a completely different world. I had never even heard of the island until my boyfriend suggested looking at an apartment out there. I had my doubts, but I fell in love with the place when I saw it – it’s like a small haven in the city. There are trees, and grass, and even open land. It has the feel of a college campus, something that NYU is entirely lacking. It’s also said to be the safest area to li ve in all of New York state.
The island is primarily known for its tram car, which enjoyed a spot in the Spiderman film. Before the F train started running to the island in 1989, the tram was the only way to get directly from the island to Manhattan.
Roosevelt Island, named after Franklin D. Roosevelt in honor of the monument that was planned but never build, formerly went by the name of Blackwell Island and, later, Welfare Island. It was home to the city’s undesirables—prisoners, chronically ill, and the insane. But in the 1930s, Roosevelt Island rid itself of the prisoners due to the opening of the Rikers Island penitentiary. In the 1950s, the insane asylum moved over to Manhattan. All that remained were the sick, residing in two hospitals on opposite ends of the island.
These days, the island features several luxury apartment complexes at a considerably lower rent than right across the river. Due to the proximity, it’s home to a large number of United Nations diplomats, and the reduced cost has recently been drawing in a large number of young people. If you can deal with the slight inconvenience, it’s totally worth it – the apartments are gorgeous. There’s not much to the island, but it has your basic necessities – a grossly overpriced Gristedes (FreshDirect is a much better option), Starbucks, a deli, diner, hair salon, library, dentist, florist, and video rental store. It was nice to live in a place that felt like a suburb while still being a part of the city.
After a year of living there, though, the seclusion started to bother me. It’s easy to feel trapped on the island, especially when they’re doing work on the subway or when the tram car is closed (both of which happened fairly often). If you want to drive from the island to Manhattan, you have to take a bridge over to Queens and navigate your way over to the Queensboro Bridge – there’s no direct route to Manhattan.
The Washington Square News article says it’s less than 20 minutes to campus from the island, which is a blatant lie. It’s more like 30 on a good day, 40 on a typical day. The F train is arguably the worst in the city.
While right now NYU is only housing faculty on the island, I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if the next step was building dorms out there. I would expect nothing less from a school that houses half of their students 30 minutes from campus… and at least this is a much nicer (and safer) area than Water Street.