Though I haven’t seen any solid poll numbers, I’d wager that the vast majority of New Yorkers have never been to Roosevelt Island. Let alone the vast majority of tourists visiting the city. This spit of land, snugly situated in the East River between Manhattan and Queens, is probably best known as the backdrop of a climactic battle in the first Spider-Man movie, with the webbed wonder striving to rescue commuters trapped in the Roosevelt Island tram (Spidey and the Green Goblin also do battle in the island’s abandoned smallpox hospital).
But those who don’t live on the island (or don’t travel to play tennis on the nice indoor courts there) will soon have a very good reason to make the trek. Plans are moving ahead to build Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on the island’s southern tip (currently off-limits to the public), adding a dramatic new public space to the city.
The park project is not new. In fact, in 1973, when Governor Rockefeller and Mayor Lindsay changed the unfortunately named Welfare Island to Roosevelt Island, a three-acre site was designated to be a park honoring FDR. The designer: none other than legendary architect Louis Kahn, whose scheme for the spot was his last completed plan before he died, in 1974.
Lack of funding and various bureaucratic battles delayed the project—for 36 years. Finally, after a mix of funding from the state, the city, and private sources was secured, construction is beginning on Phase 1. The landscaped green space, which will host concerts and other performances as well as provide opportunities for stressed urbanites to get some peace and quiet, will be Kahn’s only implemented design in New York City.
Those who voyage across the water will be able to explore a very-long-awaited plan by a master—and will be presented with one of the best Manhattan skyline views around.
Soren Larson is a senior editor at Travel + Leisure.