For many UN families unfamiliar with NYC the choice of a place to live can be quite challenging. Very often they base this important decision on the proximity to work and schools, easy commute and cost of living. Some go by the recommendation from friends and this is how my then fiancé and I took refuge on Roosevelt Island 6 years ago.

I vividly remember my first visit and it struck me how quiet and green the island was in juxtaposition to Manhattan just a stone’s throw away. Some if its architecture though resembled that of the Communist era, particularly for someone who grew up in the Eastern Block. Since then the Island’s character has evolved with its newest addition, the Cornell Tech campus, making it a trendy place to visit.

We rented a one bedroom apartment in the Octagon Building, a restored City Lunatic Asylum and one of the island’s landmarks overlooking the East River. There was nothing to obscure the view from our window and it didn’t feel like we were technically living in the borough of Manhattan. Fast forward 6 years later we are still in the same apartment with an additional family member, our son Leo.

Perhaps it’s unusual for a UN family to live in the same area, let alone the same apartment for this long but the island ‘grew on us’. I hear this phrase many times from fellow RI residents especially from families with young children. What makes them choose the island as their home?

There are plenty of green areas open to the public, playgrounds and sport amenities such as indoor and outdoor tennis courts, swimming pools, soccer and basketball courts available to residents and general public at a fraction of Manhattan prices. The island’s infrastructure and its size also make it an excellent place for jogging and cycling.

Families have nurseries, kindergarten and a public school at their doorstep. A small but very active branch of NY Public Library caters for activities designated for all ages. There is a very strong sense of community and parents take it upon themselves to organise various playgroups and gatherings. The one thing that everybody mentions about living on Roosevelt Island is its safety.

There is very little left from the island’s former function as Welfare Island. Nowadays as opposed to nursing the sick and disadvantaged it homes a vibrant community of different backgrounds. Apartments in the southern and northern tips are popular among higher income families whereas the middle part caters to lower income residents. Acquiring an apartment can be a very challenging and expensive endeavour due to a very limited supply. A one bedroom condominium can easily top a million dollars.

Aside from the subway, the ferry stop opened a year ago now also expands the transport network to and from the island. Nothing can be more unique though than reaching the island on the cable car, better known as the tram. What better way to commute than a smooth glide alongside the Queensboro Bridge with breath-taking views of Manhattan?


By Magdalena Piechucka | Photo: Catherine Clarke Sheils