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What Does the Cornell/Technion Proposal Mean for Roosevelt Island?

Cornell/Technion Proposal new-york-urban-design

Last week, it was announced that the Cornell University-Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Consortium was chosen from seven applicants who this past summer responded to the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Request for Proposals (RFP) for Applied Sciences NYC. The RFP called for a university or partnership to develop and operate an applied science campus in New York City in exchange for access to city-owned land on Roosevelt Island, as well $100 million in city capital for infrastructure upgrades. The Cornell/Technion proposal includes plans for an eleven-acre campus with more than two million square feet of space for two thousand students. The hope is that this investment of money, time and talent will breathe new life into the city’s economy as well as Roosevelt Island.

In 1971, the now defunct Urban Development Corporation (UDC) of New York State—a state agency charged with the economic development of New York—undertook the transformation of a patch of land between Manhattan and Queens which at that time was known as Welfare Island. The UDC renamed the island Roosevelt Island and with a master plan laid out by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, the corporation gradually began to transform the island into a residential community. In 1984, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation of the State of New York was created to take responsibility for the development and operation of the island. The corporation assumed the role of the UDC as the lessee under a 99-year lease (expiring in 2068) from the City of New York.

In its mission statement, the goals of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation are to:

1)      Promote, develop, and maintain the mixed-use residential community on Roosevelt Island.

2)      Provide appropriate level of services which develop and maintain public facilities,open spaces, and commercial facilities.

3)      Ensure good governance by compliance with applicable Federal, State, and City laws.

The plan for the island approved with subsequent modifications provides for the development of housing, retail and schools for a mixed income, handicap accessible, residential neighborhood.  The plan also restricts automobile use on much of the island and provides for an innovative garbage compacting system that transports waste through underground tunnels to a collection station where it is compacted and sealed in containers.  The development of the island was quietly a laboratory for urban experimentation.

If realized, the Cornell/Technion plan with more than two million new square feet of university space will once again transform the island.  The details of the proposal have yet to emerge but the information that has been released include plans for a net zero energy campus.  And, according to terms set forth by the city, the first phase of the permanent Cornell/ Technion campus on Roosevelt Island is to open no later than 2017.  The development of the proposal is on an incredibly tight timeline, so the challenge will be for these universities, the city, and community stakeholders not only to think creatively—to re-imagine the island and the relationship of universities to the communities they’re situated in—but also to think incredibly quickly.

What comes of this collision of ideas and expediency will say a great deal about the future of this piece of land and perhaps if successful will become an economic development model for other cities.