As I was traveling on the F train heading towards Coney Island, I could barely recall the last time that I’ve actually visited this amusement park. Perhaps I was five or maybe even younger. My recollection seemed to consist of me being afraid of my life, as my parents boarded me onto a rollercoaster. No other images came to my mind. The posters and banners that advertised Coney Island seemed to display huge rollercoasters paired with vivid colors. Everyone seemed to be either eating traditional, American fast food, or screaming on the top of their lungs, as they, themselves were on the top of a rollercoaster. In my mind, I actually compared it to the Atlantic City boardwalk, preparing myself for a “fun for all ages” wonderland.
When I finally arrived at Surf Ave. I could smell the food that was being served. There must have been dozens upon dozens of small shacks and restaurants. Everything seemed to involve food. Whether it was the huge sign in front of Nathans advertising the annual hot dog eating contest, or the many colorful shacks along the boardwalk, food part of, if not fully, the main attraction.
Before I physically entered the park itself, I noticed that the gate was painted with all these colorful, but yet semi-abstract paintings. They were all unique from each other. One’s advertising the park, and others just paintings of cartoon- animated people enjoying Coney Island. I actually thought this was a very nice addition to the park, especially since every other amusement park lacked the aesthetics. It seems like many amusements parks today only hang posters advertising rides, instead of letting artists map out how people really feel about the park. After the full visit, I could truly say that the artwork was my favorite part.
When I entered the park, I instantly felt a disconnection with it. I found myself disliking the park, even from the start. Everything seemed very artificial. Koolhaas’ observation that “…this infrastructure supports a largely cardboard reality” and that “technology + cardboard (or any other flimsy material) = reality (Koolhaas, 42) Even on a gloomy day when no one was there, it felt congested. All the rides were stacked right next to each other. Rollercoasters lined up with other rollercoasters. It seemed jam-packed, and that was a negative not only because it made me feel claustrophobic, but the sounds of multiple rides running at the same time, in the same 20 feet radius made it seem even closer to each other.
But what I thoroughly enjoyed was the boardwalk. This part of Coney Island seemed relaxing. Music was playing (finally a noise other than mechanical wheels on a track), and tables were set out so that families can enjoy a quick snack. The shacks also had interesting designs on them. And another thing I thought was interesting were the garbage cans. All of them had pictures on them that were drawn abstractly, like the paintings at the front gate. The garbage cans (even though they seemed like a minor detail) really juxtaposed the mechanical, congested gloomy feel of the park. It added a great layer of personality to the park.
Reading Delirious New York and personally visiting Coney Island, I could see the similarities between my opinions of Coney Island the analysis behind Koolhaas’ history. I felt in par with Koolhaas’ analysis that Coney Island was too congested, and it seemed like it was built to fast, and it amazed too many people who looked at it at a superficial level. Koolhaas even takes a majority of his “Coney Island” chapter to talk about the superficiality of destroying Coney Island’s nature, and then creating this man-made “nature.”
The inordinate number of people assembling on the inadequate acreage, ostensibly seeking confrontation with the reality of the elements (sun, wind, sand, water) demands the systematic conversion of nature into a technical service… the introduction of electricity makes it possible to create a second daytime…giving those unable to reach the water in the daytime a man-made 12 hour extension. (Koolhaas 35)
To take one look at Coney Island, I could easily be content with the variety of rides, and the amazing smells of the food, but after reading about its history, I could see that underneath all the commotion, Coney Island seemed very one dimensional. It offered nothing but congestion and rollercoasters. But there were some points that I didn’t find as accurate as Koolhaas stated. Coney Island itself had no aesthetic qualities, but the boardwalk connected to it did. Its colorful paintings really stood out, and created more of a relatable family park. When I visited that day, there was a model doing a photo shoot there, and I found it ironic that she actually used the boardwalk and beach section of Coney Island in her photo shoot rather than using the amusement park itself, since that was the main attraction.
Also what I found interesting was that the community adjacent to Coney Island was not at all emerged into the Coney Island theme, in fact it seemed very disconnected from that area. Once I got off the subway station, I could tell that the subway tracks that ran above ground separated what was the touristy and loud Coney Island from the quiet neighborhood of apartments. I could have easily observed an imaginary wall dividing these two distinct areas. It was a bit amusing to see the contrast, that as I crossed the street, one side was lined with “Coney Island stores” selling key chains, t shirts and picture frames, and the other was a ordinary, quiet community.
The culture of Coney Island was almost non-existent. I feel as though the amusement park was trying to preserve the old, glorious days of when the park just opened, while mixing it with the modern views of an amusement park, which made it more congested. Also, the culture of Coney Island comes from all the tourists that visit, and since tourists are never the same, its culture is based on something that is forever changing.
The High Line, however, was a complete contrast to Coney Island. The area was serene and quiet. The only sounds you could hear were the casual conversations of people enjoying the area or the bustling of the city below the park. No one was in a rush to go anywhere. Though the whole park seemed to be a bit repetitive, it served as a place of relaxation, something that people of all ages, could truly appreciate.
I entered through the 14th Street and 10th Avenue entrance, and right when I entered I immediately felt the serenity of the area. People were sitting around on the benches and at the tables enjoying a cup of iced tea, and just letting themselves absorb the atmosphere of the park. Children were running around with Popsicle sticks while adults were taking photographs of the different landscaping.
The city around the High Line was completely emerged with the park itself. There was not a trace of differentiation between them. The High Line ran through its neighborhood, and everyone seemed to enjoy both the housing apartments around the High Line, as well as the park. Unlike Coney Island where the community had nothing to do with the attraction, the High Line was literally in people’s backyards. Plants that were growing from the sides of the park, grew into people’s fences. While walking through the path, I could actually hear people’s conversations in the apartment buildings. The two were inseparable.
The High Line wasn’t as aesthetically decorated as Coney Island was. While Coney Island had the abstract paintings, the High Line focused on nature. Most of its artistic décor came from the plants, which was beautifully juxtaposed by the rather artificial New York City. The part that I found interesting was the seating areas that had a plastic screen in the front, which let visitors sit and watch the city as if it was on television. I thought that was a very clever idea to let visitors enjoy the serene nature of the park, while not losing the atmosphere of being in the heart of New York City. Also, the benches that were placed in the park were also a very interesting piece of art, because one side was a regular wooden bench, but the other side was curved, so that it connected with the floor. At first I didn’t understand what this was used for, but then I saw a child sliding down the bench, and I realized how artistic and child-friendly it was.
The only thing I found ironic was that there were strings put up around the landscaping and signs that were posted, saying “Protect the Plants, Stay on the Path.” I found this strange because the High Line was basically a very ancient railway system that was no longer used, and so all these plants and weeds were the results, and after people saw how natural and not artificial it was, they really enjoyed it. But yet they institutionalized it, into a way that it was in this imaginary glass case, just as if it were in a museum. It reminded me so much of the Fluxus movement, where the artists meant for it to be touched and experienced, but yet people these days want to protect it, which defeats it’s meaning.
Joel Sternfield comments on the High Line saying that it is unlike Central Park because it
… is really cosmetic in many ways. This is a true time landscape, a railroad ruin. The abandoned place is the place where seasonality resides. These little shoots-see this! This is the real look of spring.” (Sternfield 45)
I disagree with this slightly because even though the nature aspect of the park was definitely there, it feel as if people did institutionalize it and made it cosmetic, (not as much as Central Park though). There were signs also saying that they were “Lawn Closed for Restoration” which I saw as an insult to the park. The park was already beautiful as it was, why do people have a need to control how nature grows? Of course the seasons change, and so some plants die off, but then people feel like the park should always maintain a specific look to it, and that is what made it a bit superficial for me. But I would definitely have to say that I relate more to the High Line because it shows more genuine culture than Coney Island does.
Koolhaas, Rem. Delirious New York. New York: Monacelli Press, 1994. Print.
Gopnik, Adam. “A Walk on the High Line.” The New Yorker May 21, 2001: 44-49. Print.