A Park is Born: The FDR Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island
November 15, 2012

A Park is Born: The FDR Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island has long been a great and--despite its very central location between Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn in the East River--an oddly off-the-beaten-path place to go for a stunning walk and idyllic picnic.  Now it counts among its allures the city’s newest park: the FDR Four Freedoms Park, which has been over 40 years in the making. As the name suggests, the park was inspired by former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous World War II-era address calling for freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, and the basic right not to suffer from fear or want. 

The park opened to the public on October 24.The week prior, it enjoyed a grand ceremonial dedication that featured remarks by Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former President Bill Clinton, and television journalist Tom Brokaw. Descendants of FDR were also in attendance. 

From Vision to Fruition

Back in the 1970s, Mayor John V. Lindsay and Governor Nelson Rockefeller promulgated the idea that FDR’s legacy should be memorialized in New York City. Initially things looked promising: In 1973, the then-named Welfare Island where officials had hoped to build the park was renamed Roosevelt Island, in the president’s honor. Louis Kahn, a legendary architect, was commissioned to design the park, but after he died suddenly in 1974, the momentum for the project seemed to go with him. In the intervening decades, there was talk of building hotels, homes, or a business district in the rubble-strewn space, but none of the plans gained significant traction.

The notion of the park stagnated until William vanden Heuvel, a former U.S. ambassador whose immigrant parents admired President Roosevelt, raised over $50 million to breathe new life into the project. We are forever grateful for his efforts. 

The Park Today

Located in the southern tip of the island, Four Freedoms resembles the bow of a ship. From its tip, visitors can see the Statue of Liberty in the distance, and the United Nations off to the right. Even at younger ages (Riley and Halina are now almost 10 years and just 7), our children were in awe of amazing views of our city, and now they appreciate it all the more.  If yours are the same, then this is a must-do trip as few other places in New York City offer simultaneous views of the distinct skylines of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.

The park of course features a memorial to FDR and his famous speech, which is a wonderful artifact to stop and discuss.  So while Four Freedoms is a more quiet and thought-provoking destination (no running or ball playing), it is a unique and important place to visit, and you can engage in active outdoor activities in other nearby parts of Roosevelt Island..

Indeed, if you plan enough time for an extended daytrip, walk, scoot, or bicycle around the circumference of Roosevelt Island.  A wonderful and well-landscaped promenade takes you past a number of tot-lots, playgrounds, and ball fields, though your gaze will likely be focused on the river scenery all around you. At the island’s northern tip, you will find the Blackwell Island Lighthouse, which was built in 1872 and was named to the National Register of Historic Places a century later. 

Getting There is Half the Fun

There is, of course, no shortage of ways to get around in New York City. We travel by subway (fast), bus (slow but scenic), and take cabs (fast, if you don’t hit traffic, and expensive) on the rare occasions when we need to. We also bring scooters on the aforementioned modes of transportation so we can enjoy long walks/scoots with the kids, or to run errands. In addition, we also ride bikes to get somewhere quickly—or for the sheer enjoyment of it. But for all this variety, there is only one aerial tramway, and it never fails to thrill children and adults alike.

The Roosevelt Island Tramway spans from 59th Street and 2nd Avenue in Manhattan to central Roosevelt Island and offers incredible views of the East River, New York Harbor, and skylines for miles around. You can board with a Metrocard. You can also take the F train and disembark in the same general area.

When you arrive on the island, exit the tramway and walk toward Manhattan. You can’t miss the visitor center, where you can pick up a map of the island. Head south on the promenade, and you will come to the Wild Gardens Green Rooms—a bit of a misnomer, as the beautiful gardens are outdoors. The Wild Gardens offer a lovely hill to sit atop and from there, you can get a bird’s-eye view of Four Freedoms Park and the former smallpox hospital in between. In a few years’ time, visitors will also be treated to a view of the science center Cornell is planning in the area.

The park is open Thursday through Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fortunately it did not sustain damage during Hurricane Sandy.  

Have you been to FDR Four Freedoms Park?



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