Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Goodbye, My Coney Island Baby

I am no longer associated with Coney Island USA. I left there some time ago. Coney Island USA is a great group. I value the fifteen years I was part of it and appreciate all the opportunities and experiences. And being a small part of the heritage of Coney Island means more than I can adequately express. It is a badge I wear with pride...but the time had come for me to leave.

The reasons for this are complex, but the main cause is this: what I love about Coney Island no longer exists, what is there is depressing and what will come is in the hands of people with sensibilities that don't match mine.

I truly feel that Coney Island is lost. So little of what made it great is left. And the future is not bright. I don't know what exactly it will look like in the years to come, but I do know that those calling the shots about what is to come don't care about Coney Island's past glory. Now, I am not asking for a recreation of what once was (though I would love to experience some of those historic rides and attractions.)

What is vital to the future of the place is to understand why what existed existed. What function and purpose did they serve. If this is studied, I know what will be discovered is that people haven't changed that much and what they needed then is what they need now. Discover those needs, work on filling those needs in our modern world and the spirit of Coney Island will live on.

This is asking a lot. As a friend of mine who is in the midst of all the Coney Island insanity has said, "This is hard. And the people running things in Coney Island don't do hard well." So what will come will come and someone will make money off of this and speeches will be made as it all opens and big crowds will be there and there will a lot of smiling powerful people that will congratulate each other on a job well done. And what had come before, what was so magical about Coney Island of the past, will be glossed over by those people filled with the arrogance of being here and now.

And for the preservationists...a challenge. When attempting to recreate, perserve or maintain a tradition of the past, be certain that what you produce is not just "good enough." It must be the best example of that tradition that has EVER been. If your efforts are to mean anything, they must result in something that is the quintessential example of that tradition. Chances are that the project you have undertaken will result in conjuring up something that will be the only thing like it our modern world. So make it the greatest version of that Coney Island tradition that has ever existed, whether it be a ride, attraction, museum, sideshow, parade, festival, restaurant or any other of the myriad of wonders that were once Coney Island.


magicalconversations said...

Well said, Todd, well said!

Mundie-Art said...

Todd, while I certainly understand your frustrations it saddens me that you won't be there to help nudge the 'main players' toward a reasonable simulacrum of old Coney Island that won't completely suck like the proverbial bucket o' ticks. I think one of the major frustrations in this scenario is that 'the Coney Island that was' is so many different things to so many people: a collection of several million figments, and snatches of memory that may or may not have ever happened. We all project onto Coney Island what we want it to be, and it either measures up or it doesn't. How does one recreate the picture in someone else's mind? Clearly, the developers are not keen on recreating or preserving anything at all like what Coney Island may have been - apart from those bits tagged with official historical site protection. One could hope that Coney Island USA would continue to wave the old tattered freak banner high, but we shall have to see how that pans out. Just the fact that it exists at all (if not in the way one would like) is something of a victory. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

Todd Robbins said...

The developer see one thing (and have stated this publicly): undervalued beach front property in New York City. Making the most of that for themselves is ALL they care about. Anything else that is said is just a not true. Just look at their past record and it is clear what they want to do with Coney Island. And the city...well who knows what they want? The desires of the administration change from moment to moment and there is A LOT of backroom politics going on. What seems to be clear is that they have no use for amusement as an industry, and are looking for other uses for the land in Coney Island. The major land owner is backed by a large group of wealthy investors that had told him to take as long as he needs to build condos. They are in no rush to destroy Coney Island, but it will happen

fredini@thisorthat.tv said...

There is always hope, and until the condos are built, I will to cling to that. The Municipal Arts Society's Imagine Coney project gives me hope that the city may yet realize that outdoor amusements are an asset.

Life is full of compromises. It was a real loss that you left CIUSA, and not everything there is as I would have it either, but I will hold out to try and make the best of it that we can.

Aaron said...

Well, you're missed. But there are a lot of places all over New York that are dying and need our help, so hopefully, you're giving them the attention they deserve.

I think fighting for memories is a losing battle that one can't actually 'win'. But if we don't do it, we lose bigger than we have to. What's important is not to get hung up on the details because, as someone else said, the details are all different for everyone. So we're fighting for a broad concept, and as mortals, we all keep doing what we can.

SideshowFanLeighann said...

*sigh* I had no idea Coney Island was in such a sad state. My boyfriend and I were planning to go there for a vacation to see some sideshow attractions and oddities :(

Todd any suggestions on places to go? It seems like the sideshow arts are a dying form.