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Roosevelt Island

USA | Saturday, 31 December 2011 | Views [435]

Roosevelt Island only gained its current name in 1973. Before that this sometime prison, infectious disease hospital and lunatic asylum was known as Blackwell's, then Welfare Island. A shunned place, in other words.

It made sense. The island is a narrow strip of land in the East River between Manhattan and Queens. For many years the only access was by boat or an elevator up one of the massive pylons of the Queensboro Bridge. For the deranged, diseased, depraved it was a place apart. For their guards and administrators it was only 100 metres from the rest of the New York.

It also made no sense. The views from the shoreline to the south and west are spectacular. The city bristles with spear like buildings. The UN tower, Empire State and Chrysler Buildings are clearly visible. Not so far as Brooklyn that they are smudged by distance. Not so close that you are lost among the canyons.

Instead of a purgatory I can also see the island as a playground for the rich. Luxurious condos. Waterside mansions. Piers and yachts. Manicured gardens and stately homes.

Today the prison and asylum have gone, replaced by public housing in relentless shades of grey concrete. There is access by subway and cable car to Manhattan, and road bridge back to Queens. The cable car rises high above the river on slender wires. For a minute or two you are flying over the city, the glass bubble of the gondola hovering like a helicopter without the pressure of heat and noise.

A few tourists come to walk along newly constructed pathways and photograph the city. There is a coffee shop and old fashioned diner for when they are done.

I arrive underground and leave through the sky. Thumb through stock in the well worn thrift shop. Eat at the diner and walk around. Draw in-between.

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