Monday, June 18, 2007

Coney Island Developments

Yesterday was this year's first time I observed one of my favorite summer rituals: a trip to the beach at Coney Island. Over the years that I have been going there, I've observed a variety of gradual changes: the renovation of the subway station, the addition of little wooden gazebos along the boardwalk, the birth of the Brooklyn Cyclones, the disappearance of Tiny Tasha (the world's smallest woman).
This year I was disappointed to discover that the fruit smoothie that cost $5 last year is now $6. I couldn't help but see that as a sign of things ahead. Of course there were far more obvious signs of what is ahead, namely two enormous empty lots fenced in by plywood, where there used to be mini-golf, go-karts, a water ride and batting cages. Thank you, Mr. Developer who is bringing us the "future of Coney Island!" It's loads more fun already!
You can read about the evolving development plans in this article in today's Times. These kinds of things are always a tough issue. If the developer's plans are carried out, it will certainly bring more jobs to neighbors that need them, and it will spiff up an area that can only be called "seedy." But is that enough? Will it still benefit all the people who go there now, in search of cheap fun and a free way to cool off? Will the city pour millions into subsidizing the profits of a developer, and during the years it takes to build all these new hotels and things, will the area be a blighted construction site?
My main worry is that they'll tear down a lot of stuff, and then the economy will go south, the funding will dry up, and we'll be left with a big empty scar where there used to be a fun, funky, vibrant amusement zone. At least there will always be a beach, but I think right now Coney Island works really well because it is so democratic. Anyone who can afford at least a subway fare can get there, so all kinds of people go. There's music, food, entertainment, and everyone can just relax and have a good time. The worst thing I've ever heard of happening to anyone was something that actually happened to me: a crazy homeless person knocked my beer into my lap after I truthfully said "No, sorry," to the question "Do you have a quarter?" (Yes, ok, I did have a dollar, if not any coins... yet another thing to consider about whether to give money to panhandlers.)
Anyway, it will be interesting to see what happens, and at least they're not planning to stuff the whole place full of luxury high-rise condos anymore. But it will never quite be the same place I fell in love with. If you've never been to Coney Island, I highly recommend going there soon. Don't just stay near the amusement park-- try walking the entire boardwalk, up towards Sea Gate and down through Brighton Beach. You'll see a fascinating mix of old and new, lively and moribund, shiny new condos reputedly occupied by Russian mobsters, and empty, overgrown lots acting as garbage dumps, all along a couple of miles of wide, sandy beach. And then ask yourself what you would do to make it better.


Anonymous said...

I visited Coney Island for the first time about a month ago, before it 'opened' for the summer season. Sure, it was dated and clunky, but you could really catch a whiff of what it was like 100 years ago when it was one of the world's top theme parks.
Amazing hot dogs, too.

English Major said...

My dad grew up in Brighton Beach, and the Boardwalk has always had a lot of sentimental value to him (and thus, to his kids). I'll be really sad to see Coney Island as we knew it go the way of all things.

Caitlin said...

Hm...I've never been. Looks like I need to put it on my "to do" list and mark it as something to do soon. I'm a philly girl so I love me some honky tonk boardwalk action!

The Travelin' Man said...

True - but as long as Totonno's is still around, Coney Island will be all right with me! :-)