Coney Island Under Siege

How appropriate. Given all the opposition to the announced plans to "develop" Coney Island, the developer has come up with a modified version of his original grandiose plan to flood the zone with condos. Anyway, according to the New York Times, no one trusts him and view his revision as a ploy for city approval.

The fact is that the Coney Island of myth and lore died a long time ago. The parachute jump is a rusting relic that's been sitting idle for some 30 years. The Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone still creak along but everything else has been deteriorating, with little restoration over the years. There are some bright spots like the venerable Dick Zigun and Coney Island USA's ongoing efforts to keep the area's history alive with its famous freak show and other events. Key buildings have been landmarked and the construction of Keyspan Park, the minor league stadium that's home to the Brooklyn Cyclones, have been positive developments. But overall Coney is indeed seedy, the word most often used in the media when describing the area.

Yesterday I went to Coney Island, as I have been for more years than I care to remember. All the talk about the imminent demise of the fabled amusement park at the tip of Brooklyn made the trip all the more poignant for one who roamed the long departed arcades as a kid. At Astroland, the prime destination for families with children are the pay bathrooms, which are filthy and degrading, perhaps reflecting the owner's attitude to the mostly minority customers -- whether Hispanic, Indian, Asian or African American -- who crowd the amusement park on hot summer days. Predictably, little mention is made of this by the knee-jerk defenders fighting the Thor developers plans.

I hate change too, especially when it renders my childhood memories all the more obscure, but the area is surely in need of upgrading. How many of the developers opponents have actually visited the area lately? I don't want a mall, but it wouldn't hurt to have the basic amenities, now found in highway rest areas, like clean bathrooms. The beach, too, could stand some ongoing maintenance. By the end of the day the sand is littered with debris, as is the water. With tens of thousand of people using the facilities one cannot expect them all to throw away every piece of garbage in a trash can. With Thor talking about jobs for local residents, what about the city stepping up and hiring them to maintain the area?

Turning the neighborhood into a mixed-use year-long destination with indoor amusements makes sense. The outdoor-indoor proposal would also help those looking for air-conditioned respite from the heat generated from all the rides churning along. Like all urban development, it's a question of economic incentive vs. the public good. Here's a chance to make it work.

To see Coney Island at its best come to the Mermaid Parade this Sunday. It's become a tradition and this year it's followed by the Mermaid Ball to be held in the landmarked Childs Restaurant building on the Boardwalk and W. 21st Street -- the first public event in the landmarked structure in 60 years!

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