Skip to main content

In Coney Island Visions report, new ideas, express dreams, and AY avoidance

Observing that the city's truncated Coney Island plan--an apparent accommodation to developer Joe Sitt--"greatly reduces the area set aside for open-air amusements and puts too much faith in 'entertainment retail,'" the Center for an Urban Future yesterday issued a report called Coney Island Visions, asking thinkers from a variety of fields about Coney Island's future.

The effort is a partnership with the Municipal Art Society (MAS), which recently began the Imagine Coney initiative. While the MAS is soliciting advice from everybody (here are my suggestions), the Center for an Urban Future consulted amusement industry veteran, writers, architects, urban planners, and historians. Most have not been involved in the details of the development debate but were asked to provide a broader picture.

Avoiding AY

The first person quoted in the report brought up Atlantic Yards is an example of what not to do.

Jonathan Lethem, author of Motherless Brooklyn & The Fortress of Solitude and an opponent of Atlantic Yards, said he thought the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team had made a big impact. (Well, maybe during the baseball season.) He continued:
One of the things that’s perverse about this is that maybe Coney Island would love to have something like this [an arena for the Nets]. While it’s a real sore thumb here close to downtown Brooklyn, it might be a marvelous result to have a professional sports team there.

He was asked if developer Joe Sitt, "who grew up in the area," had come up with the right ideas. Lethem's response:
Being from the place does not necessarily make you the best caretaker of its meaning in a larger sense, [Brooklyn Borough President] Marty Markowitz being a key example. I think sometimes people who are of a place are too eager to erase the scruffy complicated meanings that have attached to it in favor of something quite slick, which I think is the kind of mistake that Markowitz was prone to with his encouragement of [Atlantic Yards developer Bruce] Ratner. Obviously there’s so many reasons he fell in behind that proposal, his authentic Brooklyn-ness didn’t let him see the limitations of something so monolithic and futuristic.

He added:
One of the positive things, when you say that some of the space is owned by the city and some is private. That’s good. The nightmare of Atlantic Yards is that Ratner bought everything up.

An express train

The single best idea, to me, came from Lisa Chamberlain, executive director, Forum for Urban Design:
One thought is to have an express train from Times Square to Coney Island and do some cross branding. Call it surf and turf. Times Square is probably one of the most visited place on earth. But at least now, Coney Island is visited almost exclusively by people from this region. Few tourists go there.

Express service has been suggested for years, notably in Alex Marshall's article Play Ball in the August/September 2001 edition of Metropolis. And, of course, express service would bring a Coney arena within the realm of possibility.

Indeed, Ron Shiffman co-founder, Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development (and a member of the Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn advisory board), pointed out that Coney in the 1980s had been selected as a site for an amateur arena:
Coney Island may be a good alternative to consider if the Nets are to come to Brooklyn. Locating the Nets there and having the kinds of attractions there in the off months that bring a lot of people to the area would be an asset for area merchants and for the city.

Intriguing ideas

Here are some of the comments I found most intriguing.

Eric Zimmerman, founder of video game development company Gamelab:
I was thinking of an emerging genre of games that take place in public spaces and use new technologies like cell phones or GPS locators. These are sometimes known as “Big Games” or alternate reality games. And these games would take place in and about the space of Coney Island.

Mike Wallace, professor of history at John Jay College of Criminal Justice:
One wouldn’t want a reified, abstract, cartoonish version of Coney Island—to preserve a few remaining shells when the entire web of experience and meaningfulness is gone....

Whoever’s doing this should talk to Vietnamese, Ecuadorian, Pakistani immigrants and try to figure out what it would take to get them there.

Lars Liebst, CEO, Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens:
Why don’t you create a pier? Why don’t you start up a boat from downtown New York that could go over there, so the access to that area will be much easier....

You shouldn’t just look at it as an amusement area. Look at it as a whole area where you could add cultural activities, where you could do something about hotels and restaurants. You shouldn’t just do another Six Flags, because if you do, forget it.

Michael Sorkin, principal, Michael Sorkin Studio:
If any place were a good place for a competition, this is it! A wide open architectural competition. One wants to exercise the absolute limits of creativity in a case like this. The aura is so powerful.

Charles Denson, author, Coney Island: Lost and Found and executive director/co-founder, Coney Island History Project:
They should recreate the Steeplechase Pavilion: a winter garden in the winter and a grand interior space in the summer. The main thing is the amusement area should be low-rise so it permits evolution. Once you put in high-rises, it stops the evolution. As new entertainment technology becomes known, if it’s low-rise, you can adjust.

Karrie Jacobs, architecture critic:
What seems probable given all this new investment is you’re going to have one big amusement operator come in and replace this ragtag bunch of amusements with something big and new and shiny—and economically that may be successful, but I really hope they find a way to preserve the vernacular of Coney Island. Maybe the city should institute a zoning mechanism—a vernacular bonus—that would encourage a big amusement operator or developer to lease some percentage of their holdings to the small operators, new and old, so that some of the flavor of the neighborhood can be preserved.

Words of caution

Shiffman, the last interviewee, closed with some words of caution:
I’m not hopeful because I don’t really see anybody organizing or working with those directly impacted–local residents, merchants and the communities that Coney Island serves. Developers are doing it from the perspective of their needs and the City Planning Department doesn’t really care about engaging in a community planning effort. There should be a major initiative to develop an inclusive community plan there. I would want to make sure that the kinds of things that are developed there attract people of all ages and all backgrounds and aren’t somehow screened and sanitized. It would be a shame if we screened out the kids who have traditionally come out there because they like rap music or any other type of music that attracts a diverse audience. Any development or plan for Coney Island has got to be inclusive and it’s got to include all groups in the planning process.

Perhaps the flurry of discussion will foster a more inclusive plan.


Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

"There is no alternative": DM Glen on de Blasio's affordable housing strategy

As I've written, Mayor Bill de Blasio sure knows how to steer and spin coverage of his affordable housing initiatives.

Indeed, his latest announcement, claiming significant progress, came with a pre-press release op-ed in the New York Daily News and then a friendly photo-op press conference with an understandably grateful--and very lucky--winner of an affordable housing lottery.

To me, though, the most significant quote came from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
said public housing had been “starved” of federal support for years now, leaving the city with fewer ways of creating affordable housing. “Are we relying too heavily on the private sector?” she said. “There is no alternative.” Though Glen was using what she surely sees as a common-sense phrase, it recalls the slogan of a politician with whom I doubt de Blasio identifies: former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative who believed in free markets.

It suggests the limits to …