Yonah Freemark

Roosevelt Island: Exception to a City in Crisis

Article information

Yonah Freemark (2011). “Roosevelt Island: Exception to a City in Crisis.” Journal of Urban History 37(3), 355-383.

DOI: 10.1177/0096144211400378

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Journal website: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0096144211400378


Roosevelt Island’s 1970s development leveraged public resources to build a mixed-income community.

Today, New York City’s Roosevelt Island stands as living proof that the public sector can produce a mixed-income and mixed-race neighborhood from scratch. Its successes contrast with typical perceptions of government housing failure and indicate that with determined leadership, stable funding, and a good location, the public sector can create healthy, heterogeneous neighborhoods. This article examines the process of designing and constructing Roosevelt Island to illustrate how and why local actors took advantage of favorable conditions and made important political choices to achieve their commitments, even as political and financial support for such developments deteriorated. In light of the often dismal reputation of government housing policy in the United States, Roosevelt Island’s success—unique in its mixed-income legacy—offers lessons about effective city governance in the face of dwindling national support.