Image © 2002 Laure A. Leber

A while ago, I posted an item linking to Juan Rivero's urban planning master's thesis about the City's recent efforts to revitalize Coney Island. That item, published in this space back in June, focused on Keyspan Park, a ballpark that Mr. Rivero partially laments, but one that is for better or worse a permanent component of Coney Island's amusement district. Mr. Rivero writes in to redirect our attention to far more timely concerns regarding the City's plans for the future of Coney Island.

Keyspan is over and done with. I'm much more concerned about the CIDC, which as you know is finalizing their plan [for the future of Coney Island]. In many ways, the CIDC has done a tremendous job thus far. But from day one, the City has operated under the assumption that one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of the redevelopment of Coney Island was its seasonality. The CIDC has chosen to address this problem by introducing in the Amusement District residential uses and year-round commercial uses. These have been sold to the local community in terms of the jobs and street vitality that they would generate. Understandably, the underserved local community has welcomed this proposal with open arms. However, resident-oriented year-round retail does nothing to generate tourist demand; and it is tourists and visitors who sustain the amusement district. Not only do residential uses not enhance the district, they have historically come into conflict on account of the noise generated by the outdoor amusement parks.

The CIDC, though, hopes to shoot two birds with one stone — to redevelop the amusement district, and to do so in a way that mitigates problems in the surrounding residential neighborhood — problems such as high levels of unemployment and crime. These problems, however, would be best addressed directly and not through indirect means that risk eroding the amusement district's capacity to operate as a city-wide amusement district. Already, residents have been clamoring in community meetings for 6 to 8 story residential along surf avenue; some are clamoring for a Costco and a New Roc City. Such development may certainly be better than nothing, but that, much more than the stadium, would be a squandered opportunity, because there is value associated with the history of coney island, and corporate retail is not in a position to promote that history in an interesting way. The best that the CIDC can and should do is simply pave the way for synergies between entrepreneurs and creative talent to happen. THAT, unlike residential and ancillary uses, does stand a chance of yielding unique development and uses that build on the Coney Island brand substantively.

To illustrate my point, look at the example of two current Coney Island entrepreneurs, Lola Staar and Coney Island USA. The former has started a line of Coney Island-inspired clothing that is sold is stores throughout the City and beyond. The latter has launched a burlesque revival [pictured above -ed.] that has spread throughout the City, sparking a renewed interest in a form of performance indigenous to, and closely associated with, Coney Island. Both ventures have, in their respective ways, built on the legacy of Coney Island, promoted its uniqueness, and drawn attention to it in a way that corporate retail could never do. And yet, city officials, unable to look beyond the Times Square template, continue to regard the influx of corporate retail as an all-purpose cure for urban decay. I find it ironic that the most generic little town does its best to set itself apart from other towns by highlighting its history. But New York, which actually does have a rich heritage to draw from, spends its time and money trying to look like Nowhere, USA.Hear hear! We're lucky to have inherited a unique city. We should try to keep it that way.

- An Opportunity Foregone at Coney Island [S&F]
- Coney Island: Planning Nostalgic Space
- Coney Island Going Vegas, Baby [Curbed]
- Coney Island Strategic Development Plan [Coney Island Development Corp.]
- The Incredibly Bold, Audaciously Cheesy, Jaw-Droppingly Vegasified, Billion-Dollar Glam-Rock Makeover of Coney Island: A first look at its not-preposterous future. [New York Magazine]