The Art that is New York City

September 27th, 2011

Exploring a Deciduous New York (a Break from Delirious New York)

Posted by Spencer Kim in Kim, Site Essay    

View from High Line, of Hudson River

New York City: a bustling metropolis dominated by steel structures, speeding cabs, and agitated commuters. It’s a multifaceted metropolis, serving as the financial capital of the world or even a melting pot of culture and art, and its entirety defined by an imposing and ominous skyline. For its residents, New York City can be an artificial, urban prison for which natural, recreational escapes are required. Coney Island and High Line Park allow its denizens to escape from a purely artificial city to an artificially crafted “natural” resort.

Alleyway in Coney Island with various carnival games

Coney Island was one of the first natural escapes from the city ever since railroad tracks to the island were built in 1865.  Rem Koolhaas in Delirious New York suggestively, yet accurately, describes the island as a “clitoral appendage at the mouth of New York Harbor” (31). Coney Island enticed commuters from the city with its untouched, natural beaches, providing an escape from the growing metropolis. Although Coney Island was originally intended to provide “Nature to the citizens of the Artificial” (Koolhaas 33) it soon had to adapt to suit public’s evolving preferences, and did so by intensifying the “naturalness” of the island with “Super-Natural” attractions. Luna Park, Steeplechase Park, and Dreamland tried to channel the “Super-Natural” by offering fantastic aesthetics and unique attractions.  In no time, Coney Island was transformed into a “Worlds Fair” of technology and entertainment, using cutting edge technology to provide top-notch pleasure.

Unfortunately, Coney Island did not stand the test of time. All that remains today is a destitute amusement park, overshadowed by the ghost of its former self. Scattered along the boardwalk are hints of Coney Island’s illustrious past: a rickety, old wooden roller coaster; a rusty relic of an attraction too dangerous for our modern world; a worn sign alluding to Steeplechase Park; and a conspicuous alleyway of closed game stands. In a sense, Coney Island has returned to its roots, now offering visitors the simple pleasure of walking along a beach instead of the fantastic amusement parks it once had.

View from the High Line amphitheater

High Line Park was created fairly recently and does not have as colorful a history as Coney Island has had. The High Line was essentially salvaged from a derelict railroad line spanning the West Side of Manhattan. Although the entire park was built atop an abandoned railroad, aesthetically, it provides a stark contrast from the decrepit neighborhoods it runs through. The High Line is full of life, its walkways filled with people of various ages and a diverse array of foliage. It frames the city around it, at one location even showcasing a view down an avenue in an amphitheater. From the vantage points atop the High Line, one is as likely to see a sunset on the Hudson River, powerful street art or a seedy alleyway.

Coney Island and High Line Park ironically attempt to create an escape from an artificial, urban environment by artificially manufacturing what feels to be a “natural” world. While Coney Island’s parks were immensely successful commercially, their architects failed in creating a fantasy world that transcends the natural world. Ultimately, it was the natural world (the beach) and not the artificially created theme parks, which appealed to the public. High Line Park is a pastoral park that transcends the busy world around it; its deciduous fauna allowing its visitors to step away from the delirious sidewalks that pass underneath. High Line Park has become the modern Coney Island.

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