Last Thursday's Night's CPB 8 Meeting On Kahn Memorial, Is Meaningful Dialogue Possible - Not Without Real Input From Roosevelt Island Community?
Image from Mother Jones
What to make of Community Planning Board 8 Park's committee meeting last Thursday night on the future of the Kahn/FDR memorial at Southpoint Park Roosevelt Island? The only thing I am sure about is that emotions are extremely raw on this issue and that the opposing parties are speaking different languages to each other so effective communication is absent.
To me, it seemed that the Committee Chairperson's primary role, at least as expressed during the meeting, was limited to calling for dialogue between the supporters of the Kahn Memorial (they call it the Kahn design of the FDR memorial) and local Roosevelt Island residents who oppose this particular design and support a real neighborhood waterfront park for all park constituent users and residents to be able to enjoy. However, this call for dialogue by the Chairperson demonstrates a critical lack of understanding the real issue in this dispute which is a fundamental lack of respect for and responsiveness to the needs, desires and wishes of the local community, in this case Roosevelt Island, from the supporters of the Kahn memorial.
It is impossible to have a dialogue when the Kahn supporters say that even if the majority of Southpoint Park users and Roosevelt Island residents oppose the memorial it will not matter. They will still try and go forward with the memorial because they claim to have the raw New York State political power to do so. How they have such power is pretty amazing considering that they have failed for over 35 years to raise the necessary private sector funds to stick this thing on Roosevelt Island and are now trying to suck the public taxpayers dry to the tune of $20 million.
So what is the point of a dialogue if there is no expectation of compromise or, even better, finding an alternative to the Kahn design? A real dialogue would be wonderful but it must be premised on the fundamental understanding that the wishes of Roosevelt Island residents and those who actually use, or will use the Park, have a real determining say in the ultimate outcome of Southpoint Park's development! If the Chairperson truly understood the issues in this controversy and wished to support the wishes of the Roosevelt Island community, she should support Roosevelt Island community decision making not some mushy, hand holding dialogue with no consequence at the conclusion of the dialogue.
Some have labeled opposition to the Kahn memorial as an example of NIMBYitis. I don't think it is because we desperately want a real waterfront park to accompany this spectacular one-of-a-kind location on Roosevelt Island but just not the Kahn memorial which ruins it. No other Park or neighborhood in New York City would want it either. Ask the Governor's Island folks or those supporting the creation of the Midtown East Park above the FDR drive next to the United Nations. Not a chance!
Roosevelt Island is a residential neighborhood, not a site dedicated for memorials as is the National Mall in Washington D.C. Southpoint Park is a small 13 acre neighborhood open space which will one day be a modest sized waterfront park, not the 843 acre Central Park or 585 acre Prospect Park. Taking 3 acres of green space away from Southpoint Park and filling it with the concrete and granite infused Kahn memorial does violence to the park, particularly with the now sought obscene $20 million taxpayer subsidy, not to mention the environmental damage caused by the removal of green space.
To supporters of the Kahn memorial, Southpoint Park is not a neighborhood park but a venue for all of the world to glimpse the work of a famous architect who died more than 30 years ago. For us who live on Roosevelt Island, Southpoint Park is not a place for a dated relic of the 1970's, but a place where we can throw a ball around, watch an outdoor movie or concert, fly a kite or just sit there and enjoy the spectacular New York City views. For those who don't live on Roosevelt Island but enjoy their own small neighborhood parks I ask you how would you feel if your park was to be changed for the enjoyment of those who will rarely visit and you had nothing to say about it. How would the residents of Williamsburg/Greenpoint feel if they had no say in the re-development of McCarren Park and the East River State Park or Long Island City residents for Gantry State Park and DUMBO residents for Brooklyn Bridge Park.How about placing a 3 acre memorial in the middle of Central Park's Great Lawn or Prospect Park's Long Meadow? I bet you wouldn't like it - Roosevelt Island doesn't like it either! This is not over!