Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Coney Island in for a Wild Ride?

Mayor Bloomberg is expected to announce redevelopment plans for Coney Island today, reports the Daily News. Centered on the long-closed Parachute Jump, it is an attempt to make Coney Island a year-round destination. Not only does that seem wildly optimistic, but this is one instance where the naysayers have a real point: Coney Island works exactly the way it should. The place is packed (as I can attest to, see a photo essay here) with people who apparently like it the way it is.

It really is the perfect Jane Jacobsian amusement park, meeting three of her four criteria to create and sustain vibrancy and diversity: mixed primary uses, short blocks, old buildings (i.e. cheap space), and high density (to which I would add, complementary infill development). The boardwalk is continuous, but has short perpendicular blocks to break up the monotony. It has plenty of old buildings and high density. This being an amusement park, obviously, it doesn't have a lot of mixed primary uses, but in terms of entertainment, it doesn't get much more diverse than this: rides, food, beach, games, and most importantly, open space for self expression (from break dancers to Evangelists, see photo essay linked at right). The plans to be unveiled today might be complementary infill development, and if that is the case, great. But if it ushers in Disnification or -- worse! -- a mall, that could really damage the character of this national treature that is only a subway ride away.

And speaking of the subway, MTA opened its new station there at the beginning of the summer. For a great article by Alex Marshall for Metropolis magazine about this gorgeous subway station with its solar-powered canopy, click here (the article also has cool historical info, i.e. Fred Trump, Donald's father, tore down the Beaux-Arts "Pavilion of Fun" for condos that were never built!). So I say, get the people out there, welcome them with a beautiful subway station, and then let them do their thing. Let Coney Island evolve organically, as Ms. Jacobs would say.

(Although the above rendering isn't necessarily what's going to be unveiled today, it is the winning design in the Van Alen Institute/New York City Economic Development Corporation competition, on view with other entries through Oct. 31. For more info, click here.)