Monday, September 8, 2008

Call For Landscape Design Competition At Southern Tip of Roosevelt Island's Southpoint Park- RIOC Board Members, Reject Kahn/FDR Site Control Please

Vote NO on Kahn/FDR Memorial Image from Roosevelt Island 360

The first item on the Agenda for RIOC's September 11 Board of Directors meeting is a vote on whether to give "conditional" site control of the 3 acres at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island's Southpoint Park to the Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt Institute (FERI), the driving force behind the Louis Kahn/FDR memorial Boondoggle. The agenda item calls for:
1- Conditional Designation of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute for Development of the FDR Four Freedoms Park (Board Action Required)
Last Friday, I sent an email message to the members of the RIOC Board urging them to vote No on giving site control to FERI. Rather than merely rejecting the Louis Kahn memorial, which for some unknown reason has received support from local politicians such as Council Member Jessica Lappin, I suggested that the RIOC Board create an architectural landscape design competition for that part of Southpoint Park. After all, that small three acre parcel of land has one of the most spectacular unobstructed views of the NYC skyline and waterfront and deserves a 21st century landscape design, not the antiquated 1970's design of Louis Kahn. However, the supporters of the Kahn design would be free to compete with others as well and if the Kahn design wins the landscape design competition, then it will be built with the support of the entire Roosevelt Island community. If some other design wins, Roosevelt Island can only benefit. What can possibly be wrong with that?

Below is the message I sent to the RIOC Board. As of the time of this post, Monday afternoon, I have not received a reply from any of the Board members.
Members of the RIOC Board and Roosevelt Islanders,

I write a blog about Roosevelt Island called the Roosevelt Islander.

I am opposed to the building of Louis Kahn designed FDR memorial at Southpoint Park because it destroys the existing 360 degree panoramic views of the NYC Skyline and East River waterfront. I also think Roosevelt Island can do better than a landscape design that was intended for what Roosevelt Island was like in the 1970's not Roosevelt Island as it exists in the 21st century. In the classic New York architectural book New York 1960 by Robert AM Stern, prominent art critic Thomas B Hess described the Kahn design as (page 648-649):

"This is the sort of political edifice that the Italian fascists loved and Speer perfected for the glory of the Third Reich... The site itself is treated heartlessly. What was a modest, picturesquely rugged shoreline has been disciplined to straight lines and symetrical angles that have no significance beyond the alarming one of man's ability to impose a meaningless geometry on nature. The ultimate irony is that Roosevelt, who fought totalitarians to the death, is commemorated in the harsh style propogated by the dictators."

There is no legal obligation on the part of RIOC to go forward with this project. Why not open up a competition for the best landscape artists in the world to design a park at this location. There is certainly time to do it. The supporters of the Kahn/FDR memorial can compete as well and if there design is truly the best thing for Roosevelt Island then they will be selected. If their design is not the best, which is my opinion, then Roosevelt Island can only benefit because a better designed Southpoint Park will have been created. A design competition is a win-win situation for Roosevelt Island. What could possibly be the objection to this proposal?

As a new page has been turned in the management of the RIOC Board with elected community representatives, I urge you to vote No on the agenda item giving "conditional" site control of the 3 acre southern portion of Southpoint Park to the Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt Institute for the purpose of building the Kahn/FDR memorial. Be independent of RIOC management and the local politicians. Represent the interests of Roosevelt Island First. Open up this area of Southpoint Park to a great landscape competition for the benefit of all Roosevelt Islanders and New Yorkers.

If any of you are interested in learning more about the views of those opposed to the Kahn/FDR memorial, I would be happy to put together several people to talk with you about this matter. Also, a couple of my posts on this issue are here and here and here.

Thank you for your consideration.
RIOC Board members. Another factor in deciding whether or not to give this site control to FERI should be the question of whether or not FERI, as an organization, is competent to fulfill any obligations it assumes for Southpoint Park. To date, the record of FERI is certainly less than impressive when you consider their 35 year record of failure and deadline after deadline passing to impose this boondoggle on Roosevelt Island. Also, consider the condition of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum at Hyde Park, NY of which FERI is the:
non-profit funding arm of the nation's first presidential library, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, where our support helps sustain the many programs and resources that make the FDR Library the most important center for the study and teaching of the Roosevelt era in the world.
What is the condition of the FDR Presidential Library? According to this NY Times op-ed article titled Freedom from Mildew:
THE Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum at Hyde Park, N.Y., the nation’s first presidential library, is literally falling apart. The roof leaks, the basement floods, asbestos is flaking from old steam pipes, an ancient electrical system could send the whole place up in smoke. This sorry situation is an insult to the person the library and museum honor: the founder of the New Deal, the greatest investment in our nation’s modern development.
Read some of the comments as well. According to the article, the condition of the FDR Library is pretty bad. Is this state of disrepair what we want to happen to Southpoint Park? Perhaps FERI should care more about the legacy of President Franklin Roosevelt and focus its fundraising efforts on fixing the FDR Library rather than promoting the work of Louis Kahn and the hero worship of Kahn supporters.

And how or why can Roosevelt Islanders believe any of the representations made by FERI when they have failed to keep so many in the past? For instance, as reported in the April 26, 2008 Main Street WIRE (PDF File):
In January, the head of FERI, former Ambassador William vanden Heuvel, set a deadline for his organization to raise the rest of the $40 million needed to make the project happen. He said FERI will abandon the effort if funds aren’t in place by that time, which is now about two and a half months away.
Obviously that deadline has come and gone with another broken promise from FERI. They are still nowhere close to raising even half of that amount yet they still will not go away. Under what definition of common sense can politicians like Lappin and RIOC management still support this boondoggle.

The newly elected RIOC Board members and the re-appointed board members are residents of Roosevelt Island. At the very least, I hope that they explore other options for Southpoint Park, including the Kahn design if they must, by creating a 21st century landscape design competition so that the best vision for Roosevelt Island's Southpoint Park comes to fruition. But first they must vote NO on site control for FERI at this Thursday's RIOC Board meeting!

It is also interesting to note that there will be a town hall meeting for Roosevelt Islanders to express their views on any topic they wish. Unfortunately, that Town Hall meeting occurs after the Board members vote on this agenda item. From RIOC:

The Town Hall Meeting is not part of the RIOC Board Meeting
UPDATE - 3:55 - Here is link to FERI presentation at the 9/11 RIOC Board Meeting.


Anonymous said...

What good is a "town hall meeting" after the Board has met and decided? Why is RIOC trying to stifle open discussion and honest inquiry about this issue? Granted, there was a survey and limited opportunity for those few in the know to raise their questions and express their views, but those opportunities were not well publicized, nor were contrary opinions well received. How meaningful was such an opportunity if minds had already been made up?

The sociological, cultural, economic and environmental needs and desires of NYC generally, and RI in particular, have dramatically changed and evolved, since this Memorial was originally contemplated and designed (30 or 40 years ago), and even since funding was initially approved. To suggest we must adhere to it anyway, is like saying that the Island must be limited to small pox patients, or we must rebuild the ruins for the purpose used 100 years ago, just because it was once approved.


Anonymous said...

Carl - great comment on the dot. We may ask for the comments from the public to be moved BEFORE/ahead of the vote. Unless they'd be pretty mad, they might agree. Come to support us at 4:30 - the strength here is in NUMBERS, like in China.
While we have to fight to keep this half-arse 100 yrs old atrocity celebrating the fascist NWO unbaked, the 21st Century is here for sure:
September 8, 2008

Colbert's DNA to be shot into space, after being digitized - will essentially be preserved so that aliens can clone him..
Talking about different times, huh ?

Anonymous said...

I am in favor of the memorial. Can I still come?

Anonymous said...

R**ko' - GREAT blog ! I just had a very stormy conversation w/one of the rioc directors. Would like you to know more(since the blog came up..), and have 1-2 quick questions re: my own appeal to the board am working on right now. Would you mind to email me your phone number to *T rePorcellini3 AT gmail DOTcom - will NOT disclose it to any third parties-don't want mine to be flying around if posted here. Could you say what is the latest time (no later than 11 pm)I could ring you ? If not today, what time good tomorrow? Thx


10:39 - You can contact me privately through my email address at if you wish. Happy to help.

Anonymous said...

Seriously? Do you really go down there and take in the "360 degree views" regularly? And do you really think the low-rise memorial will destroy them. The design is simple and clean, and if executed well, will also be a memorial to one of the greatest architects of the 20th century. The memorial would be good for the island and for the city.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, a "low rise" memorial with the double tree line and other components WILL destroy those views, not to mention that this is simply not the highest and best use for this land, nor the money earmarked for it, at this point. Why do you think this has been on the back burner for so long - seriously?

onkar khebudkar said...

see....i strongly belive that the memorial of Ar.louis khan has to be maintained he is one of the greats of 20th century