About Roosevelt Island

Will Changes "Enhance" or Diminish Southpoint Park?

Updated 4 years ago David Stone
Southpoint Park When First Opened as Public Space
Southpoint Park When First Opened as Public Space
Photo courtesy: Fitzgerald and Halliday

They were highly regarded by reputation before the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp. engaged them in a review process, but how really objective is Fitzgerald and Halliday in considering potentially radical changes in Southpoint Park?

Earlier, I wrote about the launch of Fitzgerald and Halliday's project to consider the future of Southpoint Park. The engagement has a lot of positives but is marred by serious negatives. Concerns have only increased in the meantime.

At a kick off meeting in early May, FHI introduced a roundtable of local residents they expect to rely on as a core group of advisors. This group has serious deficiencies, the two most serious being it's heavy reliance on the Roosevelt Island Residents Association, which has been shown to have, at best, a tenuous claim to broadly represent the community and, second, a sizable number of spaces set aside for groups that may not exist.

The net result is a bias toward the interests of longtime activists from the WIRE buildings and a lack of engagement with residents from outside that coalition, including Manhattan Park and The Octagon. This core roundtable fails to represent Roosevelt Islanders as a whole.

But there's more, and it's a little bit creepy.

Improve or Diminish Southpoint Park?

A red flag instantly went up when Fitzgerald and Halliday invited community members to stop by at three listening sessions and volunteer their opinions. The problem is in the question they posed: Did the community want Southpoint Park "enhanced?"

That's the kind of leading question that would be laughed out of any objective, scientific survey. It's like asking if you want your apartment "improved" when what the questioner really is interested in spraying it with insecticides. The questioner tilts the survey results.

No matter what FHI's intentions are, their approach seems to whisk away the simple truth RIOC Board Member Margie Smith expressed at the kickoff meeting: the park already meets the open spaces criteria the community opted for when it was opened.

But it also takes for granted that any changes will be good ones, that is, enhancements.

Roosevelt Island residents are not being offered an open, balanced opportunity to weigh in. Instead, they've been steered away from the idea, shared by many of us who enjoy Southpoint Park as it is, that there may be no good reason for consequential changes beyond securing the Smallpox Hospital ruins. Does this play into FHI's own interests in continuing and/or expanding the engagement?

When some of the suggested "enhancements" include cafes and other efforts to attract more tourists to green space originally set aside for locals, we are talking radical interventions in a space that may already be serving us well.

FHI, RIOC and the community need to step back a few paces and start again with a review that more broadly involves all residents and does not start out with biases already in place.

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