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Visiting Coney Island and the High Line

Posted by Anna Kozlova on 26th September 2011


When I first heard about the High Line, I’ll admit that I had my doubts. A garden on top of an old railroad sounded a bit strange, and possibly dangerous. This wasn’t helped by the fact that a few entrances were closed on the day that I came to visit. I had to wander around the base of the railroad before finding a staircase. As I climbed up, I was shocked by what I saw. Shrubs, grass, and flowers were arranged the edges of a path that meandered through the city up in the air. I have never seen a park quite like it before; it combined art with plant life and raised it into the air of one of the busiest cities in the world.

One of the first things that caught my eye were the transitions of old to new, and the natural to artificial and back again. Benches rose from the floor in a seamless slope, moving from the gray floorboard to rich maple-colored wood.Old railroad tracks sat parallel with the new walkway, perfectly integrated into the “floor.”A balcony overlooking the High Line Park was shielded by a fence of branches, chunks of wood, and leaves; a natural shield that does not conflict with the aesthetics of the park.

Central Park is a huge span of well-groomed trees and fields in a forest-like setting. This park did not have that option; buildings rise on either side, and cars are both seen and heard as they zoom beneath your feet. I very much enjoyed this aspect of the design; it recognized Manhattan instead of trying to completely rip itself from it. Gopnik describes this balance between the natural world and the reality of city life, “The High Line combines the appeal of those fantasies in which New York has returned to the wild with an almost Zen quality of measured, peaceful distance” (Gopnik). This is not a park full of exotic trees and perfectly arranged, colorful bouquets. The landscape echoes the original state of Manhattan before it was taken over by civilization, “…Corner recommended a wide range of plantings, with heavy leanings toward tall harasses and reeds that recalled the wildflowers and weeds that had sprung up during the High Line’s long abandonment” (Goldberger). This park embraces the past in its design and feel, letting you travel through old Manhattan as you walk the narrow path through the city air.

While I visited the High Line for the first time to complete this project, I have lived across the street from Astroland and Luna Park for most of my life. The Wonder Wheel, Cyclone, and Nathan’s Hot Dog Stand are everyday sights, and not something that stands out. They make up the general aura of the area; “Come have fun for a day. We aren’t the biggest show around, but you’ll have a great time.” This isn’t Six Flags; crazy thrills and broken speed records aren’t what Coney Island is about (unless you are referring to the record number of hot dogs eaten in a sitting). There is a feeling of nostalgia towards the neighborhood that’s been entertaining for over a century. This old timey atmosphere is something that I would characterize as the “studium” of my view of Coney Island. As Barthes sees the general settings of his photographs, this atmosphere is the overarching theme of Coney Island.The standard of a classic amusement park complete with a merry-go-round, cotton candy, and a few feature attractions is the first thing that is noticeable about the entertainment area. It is at its roots a family getaway destination for some fun in the sun and a spin around the Tickler.

Miss Argentina

I do love Coney Island for this. However, there is an unusual undertone that’s sometimes hard to miss if you don’t come in on the right day. When you do catch a gem, it changes your whole view of Coney Island. I was lucky enough to capture a photograph of something that would represent my “punctum.” As Barthes describes, “I feel that its mere presence changes my reading, that I am looking at a new photograph, marked in my eyes with a higher value” (Barthes 42).

Meet “Miss Argentina”; this lovely gentleman was kind enough to pose for the camera with his dog and parrot. There is a sense of “anything goes” that sneaks up on you at Coney and gives you a shock when you least expect it. It’s this surprise factor that really defines Coney Island for me. It isn’t just a place for a family retreat; you’re in for a show. To see examples of just how “interesting” things can get, come see the Mermaid parade in the summer and be prepared for a shock or two.It’s all part of the experience.



Works Cited

Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Hill and Wang, 2010. 42. Print.

Goldberger, Paul. “Miracle Above Manhattan.” National Geographic April 2011: 122-137. Print.

Gopnik, Adam. “A Walk on the High Line.” The New Yorker May 21, 2001: 44-49.Print.





Posted in Photos, Site Essay, Site Observations | 1 Comment »