Throughout the four years since the opening of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island, New York City Hall has been arguing with the nonprofit group, the Four Freedoms Park Conservancy, over whether the park is adequately accessible to disabled people, reports The New York Times.
The park was designed from 1972 to 1974—before the advent of the American With Disabilities Act of 1990—by architect Louis Kahn, who died in Pennsylvania Station carrying the plans for the finished memorial. At its southernmost end the park features a 12-by-60-foot sunken terrace that, ironically, President Roosevelt himself would not have been able to use with his wheelchair.
The de Blasio administration has declared categorically that the park is not accessible and needs to be fixed, and is currently withholding a permanent certificate of occupancy and hundreds of thousands of dollars in financing until the dispute is resolved.
Board members of the Four Freedoms Park Conservancy have “said that the sunken terrace was a design device created to enhance the views from an open-air enclosure known as the Room, and that those views could be enjoyed by anyone in a wheelchair or motor scooter.”
James Stewart Polshek, a Conservancy board member who studied under Kahn, has noted that the sunken terrace was never intended to be a destination in itself. The de Blasio administration has suggested that ramps be installed on either side of the Room, a solution that the Conservancy has explored, but which it believes would ultimately compromise Kahn’s original designs.
While the Conservancy is reluctant to accommodate new ramps that alter the original park design, it has already modified subtle pieces of Kahn’s work to improve accessibility. For instance, loose gravel, a difficult surface for wheelchairs and motor scooters to move on, was replaced by a polypropylene honeycomb grid of two-inch hexagonal voids filled with gravel clusters held together by resin. Moreover, levels of cement and gravel fills between the promenades’ granite pavers were raised, so as to create smoother surfaces. Both of these modifications were made in consultation with the Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People With Disabilities, Victor Calise.
For the time being, the Conservancy is prepared to operate the park as it is now, under a temporary certificate of occupancy. Until the issue is resolved, however, the sunken terrace is closed to all.
News via The New York Times.