Concerns Aired Over Roosevelt Island Tech Campus

By James Smith, University of Edinburgh
October 23, 2012 Updated: October 27, 2012
 One of several new renderings released by Cornell University depicting the future tech campus on Roosevelt Island. (Courtesy of Cornell NYC Tech)
One of several new renderings released by Cornell University depicting the future tech campus on Roosevelt Island. (Courtesy of Cornell NYC Tech)

NEW YORK—A Cornell University applied science and engineering campus, slated for Roosevelt Island, is expected to reshape the form and character of the island.

While some residents feel positive about the fruits that will come, others have aired concerns as the seven-month community review process gets underway.

Roosevelt Island is a 2-mile-long, 147-acre slither of land in the East River, and holds a population of 9,520, according to the City-Data website.

The Cornell University campus is set to take 12.5 acres, that’s around 12 football fields of land, on the southern end of the island.

Scheduled to open in 2017, the first phase will include the first academic building, dormitories, a hotel for visiting academics, and a corporate meeting building.

The remainder of the site is yet to be defined public space, until the second phase of the campus begins.

Cornell and planners have taken various steps to ensure the campus will give back to the local residents.

 The Roosevelt Island community put forward their opinions at a Community Board 8 meeting on Oct. 22 at The Manhattan Park Theatre Club, Roosevelt Island (James Smith/Epoch Times Staff)
The Roosevelt Island community put forward their opinions at a Community Board 8 meeting on Oct. 22 at The Manhattan Park Theatre Club, Roosevelt Island (James Smith/Epoch Times Staff)

Around 20 percent of the campus will be public space. This includes pedestrian paths that will run through the campus, allowing movement across the island. It also includes a 30,000-foot area (about two-thirds of a football field) amid the campus, most probably taking shape as a courtyard or parkland. The first academic building to be built will have views down 58th Street in Manhattan, and across the East River.

Cathy Dove, vice president of Cornell Tech, assured residents they will be taken care of with the open space. Some space will also be made available in the buildings, including access to the digital library and various public programs.

At the community board meeting Monday night, local residents aired their thoughts about the development. While most residents accepted that the project would go ahead, there were several major concerns raised around the construction process.

A common concern among locals is the “truck traffic and the effects on the residents on the island, especially those along Main Street,” said Ali N Schwayri, a retired physician, who has lived on the island since 1977.

Construction is expected to bring a large number of trucks over the 36th Avenue Bridge from Queens, increasing traffic congestion around the off-ramp, and down Main Street.

With all the innovation and technology the campus plans to bring to the island, Judith Berdy, president of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society, was surprised developers were not adopting a transportation method that would significantly benefit locals’ quality of life.

“I am passing around a photo of the hospital being built 75 years ago and there were barges being used,” Berdy said.

Concern over the length of time taken for the project also echoed around the room, with Phase two scheduled for completion in 2037.

“Forgive me for being so old that I may not be around to see the end of this,” one middle-aged resident joked.

A resident of Roosevelt Island’s Manhattan Park, Bryn Bass McCleary, said an increase in business and a potential ferry stop would benefit everyone.

She also said the campus would give the community more political clout to make improvements on the island. “I’m looking forward to it,” she said.

“They’re bringing in a lot. Some of the country’s most intelligent people will be coming here,” McCleary said.

The first phase of construction will likely begin in 2014, with portions of the campus opening in 2017. The entire campus is scheduled for completion in 2037.

Meanwhile, the campus is currently operating out of Chelsea, in space donated by Google. The first “beta” class of computer science master of engineering students is anticipated to start study in January.

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