Economic, Racial & Religious Diversity on Roosevelt Island

New York, N.Y.  May is the month of diversity and there is no better place to celebrate this than the community on Roosevelt Island in New York City.

There are people from all over the cultural and economic spectrum that call the island home. There’s something quite remarkable about Roosevelt Island and the way it mirrors the rest of the city’s five boroughs: take people from all walks of life, put them together in one of the busiest cities of the world, and you get a harmonization like no other. That is what, of course, makes New York City so remarkable, and it is why Roosevelt Island’s community draws so many people year round.

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Attendees of the 2013 Cherry Blossom Festival on Roosevelt Island wearing traditional Japanese attire.
Credit: Annie Watt/Society-Photo.com.

The makeup of the island’s residents is not unlike the rest of the city.  The U.S. Census survey in 2010 noted that of the 11,661 residents, 54.4 percent are White; 23.7 percent African-American or Black; 14.9 percent Hispanic; 20.0 percent Asian; 0.6 percent Native or Pacific Islander; and 5.4 percent other.  Roosevelt Island is well known for having United Nations staff members and missions reside there, so it’s no surprise that 42.7 percent identify themselves as foreign-born.

The Chapel of the Good Shepherd is one of the most prominent examples of diversity on the island. Although an Episcopal church, it hosts congregations of Protestants, Catholics, and Muslims in addition to civic groups and other organizations. The Jewish community is well represented as right on Main Street, the Roosevelt Island Jewish Congregation, and the Chabad-Lubavitch Center welcome locals and those outside the community.

!cid_AEDAFBB7-FC95-46FD-A36E-D30B1E72CCB7@homePerformer entertains multi-cultural audience at 2013 Cherry Blossom Festival on Roosevelt Island.
Credit: Annie Watt/Society-Photos.com.

Residents and tourists alike have cultural activities to partake in. On April 13, the Island held its third annual Cherry Blossom Festival which, according to the local paper, “attracted the largest crowds yet.” It featured traditional and contemporary Japanese music, food and wine tasting. The Island’s art gallery (RIVAA) hosted “Afrocentricity” in February, which was an exhibit that displayed contemporary African art.

Nadya Yulina, a resident of the Island for seven years, gushes about the community’s diversity and its reflection on the rest of the city. “The environment allows individuals to celebrate their differences and build stronger ties,” she said. “It’s not every day that I see top U.N. officials and ambassadors play a friendly soccer match against the President of Bolivia and his team outside my window!” Ms. Yulina knows the individuals because she too is a U.N. employee and in her Manhattan Park building often sees her colleagues.

There is rich economic diversity on the Island as well. The Island is known for its affordable housing and community of low-to-middle income earners, but a surge in new housing development attracted wealthier tenants and more middle-class families. This change was echoed in the U.S. Census’ numbers: in 2000, the median income was $49,976; however in 2010, it rose to $76,250. 69.3 percent of households currently earn over $50,000 while 30.5 percent earn less.

Charlie DeFino, executive director of the Roosevelt Island Youth Program Inc. (RIYP) for 18 years, lauds the Island for its cultural and economic diversity, believing inclusion and integration essential for the success of the program and community. “The youth are our bridge,” he stated. And the Beacon Program’s Site Coordinator Andrey Ganeev-Chichagov echoed his sentiments. “The kids come from different backgrounds, but they all work together. They play basketball, soccer, softball, and do their homework. They learn to accept each other for who they are.” 

Conflict certainly exists in this thriving community but despite whatever tensions that rise, a harmony remains. It is what makes Roosevelt Island not unlike the rest of the City and a special one on its own.

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Anastasiya Ganeeva
Anastasiya Ganeeva currently is a Staff Writer and Social Media Strategist for The Stewardship Report. She received her Master's of Science degree in Asian Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies in 2009 and is an expert on International Politics and Development. She is a social media junkie, baseball nerd, and New Yorker.