Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Save Coney Island

I sent this letter to Speaker Quinn today -

Dear Speaker Quinn,

I have taken my children to Coney Island every summer for the past several years. Every time we go, we have a great time enjoying the Aquarium, getting hot dogs at Nathan’s (the same building and location I went to when I was a kid, by the way), and – most importantly – going on the rides.

But, every year we go, we see less and less of the Coney Island from the year before. Last autumn, I explained to the kids that this might be their last time on the rides.

Next week, you are going to vote on a plan to develop the Coney Island amusement area south of Surf Avenue. I realize this has been billed as a hugely important development for the city’s economy, but is it in fact? What is the real long-term benefit, and what are the irreversible long-term impacts?

The fact is, everyone I know has heard of Coney Island. Just today, friends in Los Angeles, Holland and the UK asked me what was going on with next week’s vote. I am by no means an activist – but the lure and importance of the place in New York’s ‘personality’ is hugely important, not just to me – a guy who takes his family there – but to people the world over. I firmly believe taking land used for amusement park rides and concessions and turning it over to major development will kill Coney Island.

I’m sure the developer has presented foot traffic studies that show how much better it will be for the neighborhood for Nathan’s to be turned into an efficient, indoor restaurant and how great indoor bowling will be for the neighborhood. But, the fact is, we need more Coney Island rides and concession stands and amusements, not less. Those are the things that keep people coming back – the unique and important things that actually *mean* Coney Island. Indoor shopping and bowling means that Coney Island will look like everyplace else.

What I’d like to propose is that the developer’s plan be modified. There’s nothing wrong with progress and construction, but not at the expense of our city’s real and unique character. Let them build the tower, but build it NORTH of Surf, not south. A better plan is to build, but at the same time to invest in what’s there and in danger of being lost. Creating more space for more and better rides, more food stands, more open-air performances, more of a carnival atmosphere is what people want, whether NY natives or tourists. Making Coney Island more of an attraction, not less of one, will serve everybody’s needs, from developer, to beach-goers, and (especially) to our kids – and eventually – their kids.

Once Coney Island is reduced to a tiny, half-indoor, ersatz memory park, something irrecoverable will have been lost. The very things that attract people to the place will have been eliminated, and with them, any reason for going there. It’s a resource that should be built up, not chopped up and parceled out.

Please don’t let this happen.