The bronze age of monument-making strewed great men across the public squares of New York, but the politics of memory have changed not only whom the public wishes to remember but the actual materials of memory. A New York City memorial park was planned in the 1970s for Franklin D. Roosevelt with a handsome minimalist design by Louis Kahn, but funds dried up in the fiscal crisis. By the time money was raised for the park on Roosevelt Island in the East River, interpretive ideas about great men's legacies had changed.
Seizing upon the public dialogue and ferment of the New Deal and wartime period as their inspiration, the FDR Four Freedoms Park team turned to digital downloads for smart phones as the interpretive medium in the park which eschews signs or museum structures. Historical words, images, music and movies could play on personal electronic devices telling the FDR story, while allowing for responses and dialogue via social media and an internet hub. By using electronics as the memorial medium, the project hopes to embody the engaged spirit of Roosevelt’s vision of democracy, and bring relevance to his four freedoms, especially the idea of freedom of speech.Turning from the usual memorial lobbies of the old, the project faced the future user: the young.
This project raises questions about the interface between ephemeral shifting technologies of the moment, and monuments intended to fix permanent memories. Can the labile, user-friendly medium of the digital download work in place of the customary statues, museum exhibits, all-weather engravings and Park Service pamphlets that usually supply history information? Will the dialogic approach -- harnessing modern, young digital habits to history content -- work twenty years from now? And will such media products be able to adapt as cognitive changes create new modes of memory consumption?