Karrie Jacobs


December 2, 2006

Good News, Bad News

The Itinerant Urbanist has been grounded. I’ve been sitting at my desk writing one thing or another for weeks. Next week I’m due for a little field trip, but for right now, all I can do is web surf and read the papers. Two items have caught my attention:

1. The Perfect £100,000 House


From The Guardian I learn that Ikea will begin to sell their pre-fab Boklok (translation: Live Smart) houses in the UK next year. Some day, perhaps, we’ll be able to drive to the new Ikea in Red Hook and pick up a house. Maybe they’ll even help to stuff the big cartons into the trunk…

Flats will be priced at under £100,000 and the company said it expects to sell three-bedroom houses, even in south east England, at less than £150,000.

The homes will all have high ceilings, double glazing and be fitted out with Ikea kitchens and trademark wooden floors.

With first-time buyers facing an increasingly tough struggle to get on to the housing ladder, the group is expecting big demand for the homes and potential buyers may even have to be chosen by lottery.

BoKlok homes have proved popular in Scandinavia in recent years and around 800 are now sold each year in Sweden.

2. The End of Coney Island as We Know It

coney island 1.jpg

I’ve been following this story for a while. A developer named Joe Sitt has been buying up significant tracts of Coney Island and plans to redevelop it as a state of the art entertainment complex supported by condo towers. The Brooklyn Paper, a local free distribution broadsheet that provides stellar coverage of development issues (especially Ratnerville), reports the following:

Coney Island’s Astroland amusement park was sold this week to a real-estate developer who plans to tear down the family-run carnival to make way for a $1.5-billion fantasyland of hotels, movie theaters, neon-lit shops, beachfront luxury condos and even a few new rides.

The Albert family operated Astroland for 44 years before selling the land to developer Joe Sitt’s Thor Equities for an undisclosed sum.

Sitt plans to use the two-acre site for a hotel and other attractions, including a 150-foot water slide, a multi-level carousel and the city’s first new roller coaster since the Cyclone was built in 1927.

There is, in the piece, a smidgen of good news:

The Cyclone itself, which is owned by the Parks Department but run by the Albert family, was not part of this week’s sale.

Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park was also not included in the sale. That park is the biggest of the remaining funlands in Coney Island, but it sits right between land already owned by Thor Equities and the Astroland site bought this week.

Many believe that Deno’s is next on Sitt’s “to buy” list.

Admittedly, Coney Island can use some new investment. The problem I have with this is that Coney Island has it’s own culture and aesthetic, unique in all the world.
What Joe Sitt and his company, Thor Equities, proposes looks more like Las Vegas, a familiar high-gloss themed entertainment environment. We’ve gotten pretty good at designing and building those in recent years and if you’ve read Delirious New York by Rem Koolhaas, you know that Coney Island has historically been a magnet for over-the-top schemes. But the cool thing about Coney Island as it exists today — or until Sitt started buying it up — is that it was simply a part of the city zoned for entertainment with a multitude of different owners. So, unlike a big theme park that reflects the ideas and aesthetic of one corporate master, Coney Island has long been a patchwork of different notions about what it means to entertain. Of course, many of those owners have just been waiting for someone like Sitt to come along and buy them out, so they haven’t invested much thought or money in their properties in a long time; the patchwork is a little threadbare. But still, someplace  wonderfully unique is about to become much more calculated and predictable.