How Bloomberg’s Applied Science NYC has been shaping the Urban Space of Roosevelt Island

By Yandong Li

According to the Zoning Resolution of the City of New York, Article XIII: Special Purpose Districts, Chapter 3: Special Southern Roosevelt Island District. A series of residential development projects in 1970s started to transform the landscape of this island. And now there are around 11,600 residents call this place home. The average rent of this island is approximately $1000, which is significantly lower than Manhattan, and for this reason, Roosevelt Island attracts a quite number of students. However, after the development of the University campus and following commercial projects, these students may have to move due to the expecting rising of rent. But certainly there are people are excited about the coming project.

Campus under construction (Li, 2016)

David Kramer, the president of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, said “I don’t think in our wildest dreams we would have envisioned that, 19 years later, we would have had the success we had in turning Riverwalk into a residential community where people love to live, Roosevelt Island was to some extent a blind spot to a lot of New Yorkers.” (Commercial Observer).

In this article, I will discuss the story behind the Cornell Tech project on Roosevelt Island and explore how this project will affect the Island’s future. Officials realized the city could no longer rely on Wall Street as the main economic driver after the great recession, so they launched a competition to establish five engineering projects with national and international schools to diversify the economy away from the financial sector.

In 2011, Applied Sciences NYC was launched by Mayor Bloomberg in an effort for future growth in technology-related jobs and businesses in New York City. In July 2011, NYC was seeking a university, institution or consortium to develop and operate a new or expanded campus in the City, access to City-owned land and the full support and partnership of the Bloomberg Administration, and subsequently received seven responses from 17 world-class institutions (NYC.gov, 2011).

Cornell Tech was the first of four Applied Sciences projects to be announced by the City in an effort to strengthen New York City’s global competiveness, especially in technology sector.

Cornell Tech was selected for this initiative based on its innovative model for graduate technology education and its emphasis on the intersections between academia and industry and forward-thinking areas of study. When completed, the new Roosevelt Island campus alone will nearly double the number of full-time, graduate engineering students enrolled in leading New York City Master’s and Ph.D. programs. The first classrooms on Roosevelt Island set to open in 2017 (NYC.gov, 2011).

We’re building a new organization. That organization is really intended to be a model for the world, to bring together academic excellence and academic leadership with real world impact.
— Cornell Provost Kent Fuchs

Roosevelt Island Community Board Perspective

Roosevelt Island is officially part of the Borough of Manhattan, and it the community is part of the Community Board 8, which includes Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island.

The Roosevelt Island Community Coalition (RICC) and Roosevelt Island Residents’ Association (RIRA) raised questions to this project. One of the major question is that Roosevelt Island is a small place, the University campus will take some space of this land, so the community concerns that if the public will access to the campus. Cornell responded that more than 20% of the campus will be open space and fully accessible to the community (Community Board 8, 2012).

This is a vew of Roosevelt Island Community from the Tram (Li, 2016)

Also, the community is looking for partnerships to support early childhood education. They are looking for three areas to partner in with Cornell-Technion: partnerships with our teachers, our students and our school community. Cornell responded that they are willing to work with all age groups of children on Roosevelt Island, although they plan to focus our efforts on students who are in middle school to interest them in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. Their interaction will involve direct student interaction, support for teachers, and family engagement (Community Board 8, 2012).

The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) Perspective

The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) was established by the New York State in 1984 as a public benefit corporation appointed with control over the operation, maintenance, and development of the island. The State of New York’s lease on the island expires in 2068, at which point control will return to New York City (Community Board 8, 2012).

Currently, there are around 28 local business operating on the island, including US Post, Dental Clinic, Subway restaurant, Starbucks, Barbershop, Drug store, and New York Public Library etc.. According to the 2015 Annual Report of RIOC, to facilitate this project, on December 12, 2013, RIOC’s Board resolved to: “amend its’ Master Lease with the City to exclude the 2.62 acre surrounding the site (“Parcel”) so that it may be incorporated into the City’s 9.8 acre Goldwater Site for the Cornell Campus.” (Community Board 8, 2012).

For the surrender of the Parcel back to the City, RIOC will receive a financial contribution from the State of $1,000,000 annually for 55 years payable to RIOC (increasing by 2.5% every 10 years) in accordance with State budgetary procedure, with the present value of the payment fully made by December 31, 2018, to support capital infrastructure improvements on Roosevelt Island. In addition, Cornell will pay RIOC $400,000 annually for 55 years (increasing by 2% every 10 years) (Community Board 8, 2012).

Cornell Tech and Israel Technology Institute Perspective

As a pioneer in the creative technology filed, Stanford University was considered the most competitive university during the project’s bid. However, Cornell and its partner Israel Technology Institute won the Applied Science NYC initiative.

First of all, Compare to Stanford, Cornell University is a local university. Weill Cornell Medicine, Cornell’s medical school, locate at just across the East River.

Secondly, Cornell’s partner, Israel Institute of Technology, has a reputation of the MIT of Israel. Cornell saw in the Technion a university with a history of turning research into companies. According to Mayor Bloomberg, “There’s more Israeli technology companies listed on the NASDAQ than European technology companies, the more engineering schools there are here, the more other engineering schools want to be here, the more companies that are here, the more people want to come here.”

Moreover, Sandy Weill, a billionaire Cornell alumni and a Jew, was extremely committed to facilitate this deal. Suri Kasirer is considered as the lobbyist behind Cornell’s Roosevelt Island win. She and her team met with elected officials and community leaders both in Queens and Roosevelt Island. She met City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who is now the Mayor of New York.

Timeline of the Cornell Project (NYC.gov, 2016)
December 2011 — Cornell and Technion won the Applied Science NYC initiative
Spring 2013 — A class of 7 students of Cornell Tech started to have classes at Google’s office building at Chelsea
January 2014 — Ground-breaking at Roosevelt Island
Fall 2014 — The Jacobs Technion Cornell Institute began its dual-degree programs
2017 — Students and faculty move to Roosevelt Island
2037 — All projects completed

The campus will cost 2 billion dollars, and Cornell Tech was awarded a 99-year lease along with $100 million in city capital for site maintenance and construction.

It is a 2 million square feet campus with 2.5 acres of new green space. There will be 20,000 construction jobs and 8000 permanent jobs provided on campus. It will house 2,000 students and 280 faculty by 2037. The 12-acre footprint of the Cornell Tech campus includes the site of the former Goldwater Specialty Hospital and Nursing Facility, which has been replaced by the new Henry J. Carter Specialty Hospital in Harlem. Former Goldwater patients have been relocated to the new hospital. The campus footprint also includes property formerly controlled by the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation. Cornell Tech has spent the past year working with the Roosevelt Island community on plans to minimize the impact of construction on residents, including deployment of the largest barging program in New York City to remove demolition materials from the site.

Moreover, this project will generate over 23 billion dollars in overall economic activity over 3 decades. And will also generate 1.4 billion in tax revenue. There are around 600 spin-off companies projected to create 30,000 new jobs.

I will discuss how the movie industry shaped the urban space as an example. According to Webb, starting at the 1970s, the major film companies continued to downsize their Los Angeles studio space, allowing location shooting to thrive on the streets of American cities such as New York and San Francisco that were seeking to foster a new cultural economy to replace their disappearing manufacturing base.

Webb states that from New York in The French Connection (William Friedkin, 1971) and Atlantic City in The King of Marvin Gardens (Bob Rafelson, 1972) to Los Angeles in The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman, 1973), San Francisco in The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974) and Philadelphia in Rocky (John G. Avildsen, 1976), the city frequently took centre stage in new Hollywood films. As these examples suggest, the American cities become a grounded, densely textured fictional world and narrative space, a powerful symbol and a subject for exploration and ideological critique, and eventually, a source of aesthetic inspiration and visual fascination (Webb, 2014). Meanwhile, Webb also states that the shifting landscapes and cultural formations of the city became a direct inspiration for filmmakers, who created new ways to construct and present new cinematic urban space.

As the urban sociologist Sharon Zukin argued, it has become increasingly important to recognize the interpenetration of the cultural with the economic, to combine analysis of the city as “political economy” with analysis of the “symbolic economy” of urban societies. For Zukin, “the most productive analyses of cities in recent years are based on interpretations and interpenetrations of culture and power”.

Moreover, Harvey explains in his work Social Justice and the City (1973) on the effects of the urban crisis on America’s social fabric, he began to analyse the connections between capitalism’s inherent crisis tendencies and the processes of ghetto formation and urban decline that had triggered violence in the city. According to Harvey, such questions could not be satisfactorily answered through the liberal positivist framework of existing geographical theories; however, it requires “a revolutionary geographical theory” to match the object of its analysis.

“Capital represents itself in the form of a physical landscape created in its own image, created as use values to enhance the progressive accumulation of capital. The geographical landscape that results is the crowning glory of past capitalist development”
— David Harvey

As Harvey explains, capital accumulation relent- lessly produces surplus profits, which must be re-invested or recycled in order for the process to continue.

Work Cited

Community Board 8. Retrieved from http://cb8m.com/sites/default/files/12.18.12.1%20Cornell %20Community%20Board%20Response%20Spreadsheet.pdf

NYC. gov, Mayor Bloomberg, Cornell President Skorton and Technion President Lavie Officially Transfer 12 Acres of Roosevelt Island to Cornell Tech. Retrieved from http:// www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/420–13/mayor-bloomberg-cornell-president- skorton-technion-president-lavie-officially-transfer-12#/0

Suri Kasirer, the Lobbyist Behind Cornell’s Roosevelt Island Win. 2012. Retrieved from http:// kasirer.nyc/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Suri-Kasirer-the-Lobbyist-Behind-Cornell’s- Roosevelt-Island-Win-The-Commercial-Observer.pdf

Webb, L. (2014). Introduction: Cinema and Urbanism after 1968. In The Cinema of Urban Crisis: Seventies Film and the Reinvention of the City (pp. 9–28). Amsterdam University Press.

Webb, L. (2014). New York City: Cinema and Crisis in the Entrepreneurial City. In The Cinema of Urban Crisis: Seventies Film and the Reinvention of the City (pp. 75–126). Amsterdam University Press.

Zoning Resolution of the City of New York (2016). Retrieved from https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/ planning/download/pdf/zoning/zoning-text/art13c03.pdf

Further Readings

Roberts, L. (2012). Cinematic Geography: Mobilizing the Archive City. In Film, Mobility and Urban Space: A Cinematic Geography of Liverpool (pp. 1–31). Liverpool University Press.

Roberts, L. (2012). World in One City: Travel, Globalization and Placeless Space. In Film, Mobility and Urban Space: A Cinematic Geography of Liverpool (pp. 162–189). Liverpool University Press.

HATUKA, T., & DAVIS, D. (2010). Absence, Urban Space, and Civil Participation in Rabin Square: THE ASSASSINATION OF PRIME MINISTER RABIN, NOVEMBER 4, 1995. In Violent Acts and Urban Space in Contemporary Tel Aviv (pp. 26–70). University of Texas Press.

VARGA, J. (2013). Space as History. In Hell’s Kitchen and the Battle for Urban Space: Class Struggle and Progressive Reform in New York City, 1894–1914 (pp. 19–44). NYU Press.