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Roosevelt Island's Four Freedoms Park at the center of lawsuit over accessibility

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The state and the conservancy managing the park have been named in the suit

Courtesy of the Four Freedoms Park Conservancy

Roosevelt Island’s Four Freedoms Park is now the subject of a class-action lawsuit, which alleges that the park’s design violates the Americans With Disabilities act, and is not fully accessible, the New York Times reports.

The lawsuit, which names the state and the conservancy that manages the park as the defendant, was filed by three wheelchair-bound New Yorkers in a federal court in Manhattan on Thursday. The plaintiffs allege that the uneven surfaces of the park and the overall vertical incline make it difficult for people with mobility issues to fully experience the space.

Officially named Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, in honor of the 32nd President of the United States, the park is located on the southern end of Roosevelt Island. The plaintiffs on the lawsuit argue that the lack of accessibility at the park is especially egregious considering it honors the memory of a president who used a wheelchair for several years.

The suit also alleges that several other areas of the park are not accessible, including the gift shop, the bathroom, and—most notably—the terrace at the end of park, which offers dramatic views of the city. The terrace can only be accessed by stairs.

This isn’t the first time the Four Freedoms Park has been at the center of a controversy. Last summer, the city withheld funding and a certificate of permanent occupancy over the accessibility issues at the park. In fact, the city has been pushing the nonprofit that runs the park, the Four Freedoms Park Conservancy, to address these concerns since the park opened in October 2012.

The conservancy, for its part, has argued that changing the design from what it is right now would compromise the vision of architect Louis Kahn, who designed the park before his death in 1974. (It was delayed for years, with construction finally getting underway in 2010). John Kurtz, a partner at Mitchell Guirgola Architects was the architect of record on the project, and pioneering landscape architect Harriet Pattison, did the landscape design on the park. Curbed has reached out to both to comment on the matter.

Even at the time of the conflict with the city last year, the Conservancy had argued that the park offered the best views from right above the entrance to the sunken terrace, and hence still provided a full experience to people with disabilities.

“The park has had thousands of visitors in wheelchairs, walkers, scooters, or other assistive devices who have enjoyed visiting the park and have found it accessible,” a spokesperson for the park told the Times, adding that the Conservancy had yet to review the lawsuit.