Contesting Coney Island's "Uniqueness": Drawing the Line Between Development and Loss

Authors: Juan Rivero*, Barnard College
Topics: Tourism Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, Cultural Geography
Keywords: tourism, anti-tourism, New York City, heritage, urban redevelopment, planning
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Astor Ballroom II, Astor, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper looks at a redevelopment conflict surrounding efforts to enhance the tourism potential of Coney Island, a historic amusement destination in Brooklyn, New York. In 2007, the City of New York began to formulate a redevelopment plan with the objective of better capitalizing on Coney Island's uniqueness. An opposition coalesced against the City, driven by the view that, far from building on the neighborhood's uniqueness, the City's plan undermined it. The paper examines the basis of that objection and considers how the advocates' sense of local uniqueness originated and translated into a development vision that differed from the City’s. Finally, it sets forth normative standards by which we might evaluate the merits of alternative approaches to "unique redevelopment".

The concept of uniqueness has become common currency in both the promotion and condemnation of redevelopment efforts. On the one hand, cities have long sought to cultivate and promote local distinctiveness so as to better compete in the spatial sphere of consumption. On the other, communities seek to safeguard neighborhood qualities that development might endanger. Although these dynamics do not always operate at cross-purposes and may even reinforce one other, aligned by a shared interest in local features, they do observe disparate logics. By examining this underlying difference, we can look beyond the stark distinction between pro- and anti-tourism development, gain insight into the wide range of possibilities that "uniqueness" might comprise, and thereby envision potential avenues for addressing community concerns in the face of perceived neighborhood threats.

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