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Rikers Island Reimagined: From Incarceration to Infrastructure

Updated: Jan 21, 2020

As the campaign to close all nine Rikers Island jails gains momentum, the time is now to create a new vision for Rikers Island that offers healing and lasting benefits to the surrounding communities, as well as to the entire region. This morning, Karp Strategies had the opportunity to contemplate this new vision at The Future of Rikers and the Inner Sound, hosted by the Regional Plan Association and A More Just NYC at the New School.

Attendees heard from Queens Council Member Costa Constantinides, Melissa Iachan of the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Alyssa Katz of THE CITY, Althea Stevens of the Bronx Neighborhood Advisory Council, and Claire Weisz of WXY Studio. Introductory remarks were provided by Judge Jonathan Lippman of the Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, Ben “Cincere” Wilson of the Institute of Transformative Mentoring at the New School, and Moses Gates of the Regional Plan Association.

Building height restrictions—the island is under LaGuardia Airport flight paths—and the enormous level of environmental contaminants render Rikers unsuitable for residential or commercial development. Thus, the island is well-positioned to become home to new, sustainable infrastructure facilities for renewable energy, wastewater treatment, and anaerobic digesters to break down organic waste without contributing to greenhouse gases. These efforts would bring NYC closer to reaching its zero waste goals, and importantly, would replace the facilities that are currently placed in communities where thousands of New Yorkers live. Current treatment centers place tremendous environmental and health consequences on the communities that were forced to house them.

The panel discussion raised the imperative to reimagine the island without erasing its past by memorializing and paying tribute to the overwhelming suffering and trauma that had and still occurs on Rikers. And looking beyond the island, how can this healing process extend to the surrounding communities that were forced the bear the overflow of hazardous environmental materials? Closing the jails on Rikers Island creates an enormous potential for positive change, and Karp Strategies will continue to follow this issue closely to help ensure that affected communities are deeply involved in the planning process.

If you attended the event or have ideas about the future of Rikers Island that you’d like to share with us, please reach out!

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