NYC_More than just a concrete jungle!
When I first moved to New York City my California friends had my head filled with fears of never seeing green and how I have to survive in an absolute concrete jungle. Although I’m a city girl, but I still love nature; running outdoors, feeling the fresh air, seeing live plants, trees, hearing birds chirping, and so on. Yes I want my cake but I want to eat it too. When I moved to New York in search of a perfect yet affordable place to live, brokers laughed at me when I asked for view, California friends said I told you so and I was just days away from giving up until I found my perfect match, Roosevelt Island.
Just a short 5 minute tram ride away from upper East side, with breathtaking views of Manhattan as well as Queens, it has a curious history and a look and feel that’s miles away from the city (even if it’s technically part of the borough). Mostly residential, its appeal lies in its beautiful green spaces, curious and sometimes dark history and a slower pace of life. If you’ve got a few hours on your hands, the following is a suggested itinerary that will allow you to see all of the island’s historical highlights;
My favorite, (yet spooky) the ruins of the Renwick Smallpox Hospital, which opened in 1854 to care for people with contagious diseases and later was the home of one of the first nursing schools in the U.S. The crenellated Gothic Revival Style building was designed by James Renwick Jr., the architect of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It was abandoned in the early 1950s, but remains my favorite place to run and be reminded of the history.
At the far south tip of the island is the FDR Memorial Four Freedoms Park, opened in 2012 but designed back in 1974 by American architect Louis Kahn to memorialize President Roosevelt and his belief in four essential human freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom to worship God in one’s own way, freedom from want and freedom from fear. Amid huge slabs of granite that offer spectacular views of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan — including (quite appropriately) the U.N. — is the FDR memorial itself: a bronze sculpture by Jo Davidson that offers a several-feet-high representation of Roosevelt’s head.
When I visited the Island for the first time, I fell in love. I know I wanted to live here but on this small yet stunning space, I was lucky to have found an apartment in the Octagon Building.
The Octagon is currently the lobby of a 500-unit apartment building and home to a rotating art exhibit curated by the Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association, but don’t let its current state fool you into thinking it’s always been a pleasant place. The site was originally built in 1839 as the NYC Municipal Lunatic Asylum, and it was there where in 1887 journalist Nellie Bly faked insanity to expose the mistreatment of patients at the facility. Her book, Ten Days in a Mad-House, led to a grand jury investigation and more stringent — and humane — policies at the hospital. Nonetheless, the asylum remained open for several years before being converted into the Metropolitan Hospital in 1894. The hospital was open until 1955, at which point the building fell into disrepair. In 2006, the property was reopened as a residential community.
From the Octagon, walk west to get to Lighthouse Park, where you’ll find the Blackwell Island Lighthouse, built by convict labor in 1872 to light the way for boats navigating what were referred to as “Hell Gates waters” just north of the island. Today, it is probably one of the smallest lighthouses you’ll come across (it’s only 50 feet tall).
And this is where my morning run usually ends, just a perfect way to remind me where I live, all the history behind it and how far I have come. So keep dreaming, keep pushing and working hard towards your goals, future is bright. You can find your perfect little green spot even in the concrete jungle!