Karrie Jacobs


April 20, 2008

Orwell in Coney Island

The view from Stillwell Avenue.

Yesterday, seduced by the warm, sunny weather, I got on my bicycle and pedaled out to Coney Island, and after riding all the way down to the end of Surf Avenue, where I was sent packing by the guard at the entrance of Sea Gate, I cruised slowly back up along the Boardwalk, soaking up the splendor of the day.

I rolled off the Boardwalk at Stillwell Avenue and began looking at what developer Joe Sitt has done with the property that he bought up and bulldozed, property that the city has been trying to wrest away so it can build a bigger, better amusement district. What has Sitt done, besides putting up a lot of chain link fence? He’s done the Orwellian thing; he’s hung bright banners inside the no-man’s-land he’s created heralding “The Future of Coney Island.” Some of the banners just feature the slogan, and others show Coney Island’s iconic skyline — the Parachute Jump, the Wonder Wheel, the Cyclone — in silhouette with giant, stylized waves in the foreground.

The future of Coney Island? Apparently it involves a tsunami. Maybe this is Sitt’s idea of a metaphor.

Meanwhile, City Planning has backed off a bit on its plan. Originally, the city was going to rezone 15 acres as parkland, to be developed by a company such as Tivoli Gardens. The revised plan, announced this week has shrunk that area to nine acres. Sitt seems to be holding fast to a portion of his acreage, but some of the families who’ve been running the amusements at Coney Island for decades will also be included in the redevelopment team. On the surface, this sounds like decent compromise because it suggests that Coney Island will remain a neighborhood zoned for amusement, with a patchwork of owners and a motley aesthetic, instead of being overtaken by a single, seamless, corporate theme park.  However, I’ve been hearing from my Coney Island connections that this is not a good deal at all, because the city is backpedaling on its commitment to reserving a core area of the neighborhood for amusements.  More details to come.
For more analysis and a helpful graphic treatment of the changes in the city’s plan, visit The Gowanus Lounge. And for background, you might want to read the Metropolis column I wrote about Coney Island around this time last year, End of the Line.