Saturday, July 19, 2008

June 24, 2008- Hearing on Proposed Coney Island Development

The following is Noticing New York's written comment to the New York City Economic Development Corporation delivered in connection with its June 24, 2008 hearing on Proposed Coney Island Development.

June 24, 2008

New York City Economic Development Corporation
110 William Street
New York, New York 10038
Attention: Rachel Belsky, Vice-President

Re: June 24, 2008- Hearing on Proposed Coney Island Development

Dear New York City Economic Development Corporation:

This comment is being offered in the name of Noticing New York, an independent entity dedicated to the proposition that developing New York and appreciating New York go hand in hand.

I offer this testimony as an attorney experienced in real estate and as an urban planner.

I endorse the idea that New York should prepare for growth. Because I endorse that idea, I do not endorse this proposal for a vast reduction in the amount of amusement park space at Coney Island.

Coney Island has an unparalleled history as a place of special and breathtaking amusement activities. It has changed, of course, from what it was but growing up I remember riding the horses at Steeplechase Park. Even then things were not what they had been and Steeplechase Park is a memory now.

Things change and cities have their cycles. Only last week, Francis Morrone, historian and urban observer writing for the New York Sun wrote about the passing of the age of urban sprawl with what he refers to as the “unsprawling” of our cities. Whereas once there was what people referred to as an “urban crisis,” the term doesn’t get recognition in a world where our inner-city neighborhoods are no longer written off and instead command top dollar for homes as every neighborhood in the city becomes increasingly valuable.

Clearly we must prepare for the City’s growth but would we prepare for and steward the City’s growth by decommissioning our city parks and having less public space? Certainly not! Does it then make sense to prepare for growth by decommissioning the happy, gaudy cousin of our other parks, the “amusement park?” In a time when centripetal forces are gathering population to the city, it is time to grow, not to shrink our amusement acreage. Our plans for growth must accommodate a city and Brooklyn that are surpassing themselves beyond what they ever were as centers of populations. Those populations must have the chance to play by the ocean-side in the open air.

Shopping malls are not park or public space. Even if you call a shopping mall “amusement shopping” it does not make it an amusement park. To propose to reduce the amusement park acreas and then net out of the reduced space a shopping mall achieves nothing, lacks of forthrightness and is hardly a creative ruse.

Coney Island has always been a place of imagination. Shopping malls are the bleak ideas of the imaginationless developer on their way to either a failure or an alternative project. Only a few years ago the public was opposing construction of the poorly conceived Albee Square Mall more recently rechristened the Gallery at Fulton Mall. Now? The ground lease was sold by Joe Sitt so it can be torn down and replaced by a high-rise housing, hotel, retail and office complex. Presently there is a proposal afoot to tear down the South Street Seaport mall built 25 years ago to enable development of towers. As we are now ostensibly ready to now to tear down the South Street Seaport which admittedly got some acclaim when it was built in 1983 we are, of course, now also talking about tearing down much sooner the significantly worse Atlantic Center which has been decried from the day it opened in Brooklyn the fall of 1996. Do developers’s now view malls as way-stations as they head toward hugely dense towers- Are malls now teh equivalent of the one-story `taxpayers’ that once preceded the shorter buildings of the past?

If a shopping center flung far to the outskirts of seaside Brooklyn were a good idea wouldn’t our thirst for this commercialism be sufficiently slaked by the nearby Bensonhurst Park shopping center?

I agree that one should pay attention to the economic interplay in terms of the highest and best use of land and the uses for which land becomes most valuable and for which the highest price will be paid. However, we must stop listening to the chant of developers long enough to remember that those rules do not apply when dealing with open space, parks and places for recreational amusement. Would we destroy Central Park because someone would pay substantial sums for its acres? No. And just like Central Park, the acres of Coney Island have special value because of their irreproducible location: Tied in with Coney Island’s history as the most desirable place to visit the sea, our mass transit infrastructure, belonging to us all, makes Coney forever accessible to all and sundry. Don’t dead-end this history.

Why, at this location, would we want to replace the public’s amusement acres with private towers? Why when there are still other areas lying fallow and ready to be developed? These towers and malls do not need to be right where the amusement acres are. Nor do such towers need to be the most susceptible to the dangers of storm surge that they can possibly be. At the heights being talked about, for these towers they could be farther away and still the ocean views could be appreciated by their limited populace.

If we are going to sacrifice amusement park acres to development, why sacrifice the most renowned and historic acres in the city? Once sacrificed there will be no going back. When you ascend the Wonder Wheel there will never again be a view of the ocean-side seascape offering a window and insight into a celebrated history. You will no longer see that panoramic side-by-side link between the beach and carefree seaside amusement.

I brought my daughters over the years to Coney Island to ride the Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone, after which we always wanted more. Don’t give us less.

CC: Hon. Michael Bloomberg
Speaker, City Council, Christine Quinn

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