Impact's Likely To Be Less Than Expected

Amazon's coming: What's it mean for Roosevelt Island?

Updated 43 weeks ago David Stone
Anable Basin, site of Amazon HQ2 and Trump Countdown Clock
Anable Basin, site of Amazon HQ2 and Trump Countdown Clock
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Depending on your politics, you're probably thrilled that Amazon's planting HQ2 (less 1/2) nearby in Long Island City or dreading it. Mass media, committed to covering all sides, whether of equal value or not, spins drama to keep cheeks in seats. But will the move, officially announced yesterday, really have a whole lot of impact on Main Street, Roosevelt Island?

First, think about Amazon HQ2 in context. 25,000 is a lot of jobs. With average salaries of $150,000 per year, it's a lot of meaty jobs.

But it adds less than 1% to New York City's workforce. 3.1 million people work in New York, more than 90% of them residents. Adding 25,000 to that sturdy number won't be spectacular.

We can absorb those jobs with barely a bump.

It strengthens the City's broadly supported vision as a hub to rival Boston and San Francisco. It plays well with Cornell Tech and others along the emerging technology corridor from Brooklyn to Queens by way of Manhattan.

But what about Roosevelt Island, a short ferry ride across the river?

Anable Basin, one-half of Amazon's HQ2 planned locations, sits just north of the Gantry Park NYC Ferry landing. It's unimpressive - except for the Trump Countdown Clock - a drab collection of buildings around a polluted inlet. 

If you visit Southpoint or FDR Four Freedoms Park in the months ahead, you'll see Amazon lifting skyward. Maybe you'll even go to work there, some day.

Amazon's coming: What's it mean for Roosevelt Island?

But if you're worried about the new neighbors bringing cataclysmic change to Roosevelt Island, you can relax. It's unlikely to happen, and change already strains what's left of our historic identity. There's not that much left to lose.

Here's why.

Many of us moved here and stayed, loving the one-of-a-kind environment, the activist community, but those features were never, gasp, universally adored. 

People who chose to live in a city want to, you know, live in a city. We're not that. We're not suburban either. We're a hybrid, an acquired taste, like broccoli with politics.

And iteration after iteration of unelected representatives bunkered at 591 Main Street failed to promote or develop our finer features, the parks, the Tram, the riverside ambiance. In contrast, Hudson's done fairly well at it, but only in contrast and on limited grounds.

There's a fear of skyrocketing rents.

A friend worries that middle class people will no longer afford housing costs on Roosevelt Island. That's not new. It's lit up by the Amazon deal.

We heard the same buzz and worse as Cornell Tech emerged out nowhere. Fears conjured up by the usual suspects never materialized, and the graduate school's proved an exceptionally good neighbor.

Out of town friends' eyes already spring open when told what rents are here, and they don't really believe you when you tell them it's a bargain compared to the rest of New York.

But it's unlikely that any impact from Amazon will come near what the influx of overcrowded, often illegal student dormitories and Airbnb-style rentals across several Island complexes has in recent years.

Prices jumped while short term newcomers replaced stable residents, eroding community cohesion. We survived that, so far. We're changing, but the middle class, New York style anyway, is tenacious here.

We've made room for affordable housing, and we have luxury apartments for high earners too.

Amazon won't change us much for a simple reason.

Believe it or not, few of its workers will want to live here.

Why would they, with abundant housing in walking distance and more neighborhoods tuned to urban tastes short subway rides away in Brooklyn and Queens?

The core of Roosevelt Island is seen by outsiders as quaint, dated and faded, or worse.

Does anyone taking an honest look down Main Street, dotted with empty storefronts, see an exciting vista? 

The original planners built out variations of socialist-style worker housing, convenient, plain and affordable. Even the odd decorative touches, like the Island House gangway, are being removed.

Hudson's tried to spruce things up, but cosmetics can't cover the affects of stupid planning decades ago.

There's good reason future developers didn't model the WIRE buildings' boxy concept, one that inexplicably worked to deny any hint of living or working on an island.

How many water vistas do you get between Rivercross and Westview? The barriers are no accident.

Manhattan Park broke a bad pattern, opening up to the East River and designing a shady park out front instead of the dreary street-sidewalk-entrance pattern established. Southtown proved even airier, and the Octagon used historic accents to rise from abandoned ruins.

The trouble is, you can't tear the Main Street canyon down and start all over. Main Street is, was and ever will be inside out. That's accented by our primary artery being angled so as to pass the back entrances of historic treasures, Blackwell House and Chapel of the Good Shepard, instead of their lovely fronts.

RIOC's left it unrelieved, seemingly clueless about options for enlivening public spaces.

This leaves Roosevelt Island with a small set of complexes likely to fetch Amazon workers, and the competition from other neighborhoods, plus direct access only by ferry, makes even that  less likely


Amazon HQ2 will be good for New York City, and together with Cornell Tech, it'll create synergies that power up our tech sector, but it won't change Roosevelt Island, not much.

Those of us who love it here will mostly stay. We'll stay for the community, the thrill of living in a place like nowhere else, the quiet and peacefulness close to all the big city hustle.

Roosevelt Island's proximate to everything, but always a distance apart.

We're not going to pull enough converts to drive up prices.

We are what we are, and for the most part, it's not what outsiders crave.


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