The Future of Coney Island

Visitors looked a little lost outside the gates of Astroland today, peering through the fence and taking pictures under the entrance sign. I also noticed the banners (which also feature in the Coney Island Development Corporation newsletter), designed to “showcase iconic neighborhood landmarks.” The baseball banner, for example, hangs next to where all the batting cages used to be.

 Earlier this week, I attended the panel discussion Coney Island at the Crossroads, hosted by the Municipal Arts Society to discuss the new zoning plan for Coney (the “next act”). Speakers included MAS president Kent Barwick; Purnima Kapur of the NYC Department of City Planning; Lynn Kelly, President of the Coney Island Development Corporation; Carol Hill Albert, owner of Astroland; Dick Zigun, director of Coney Island USA; and Sheryl Robertson, director of South Brooklyn Youth Consortium.

You can find out more about the plan here, and download the PDF brochure here, with plenty of seductive “renderings.”

A surprise pleasure was meeting Harold Kramer, grandson of the Thunderbolt roller coaster owners. He now runs a bar in Williamsburg.

Atlantic Yards Camera Club Part 2: The Atlantic Center Incident

Norman Oder (right) has been trying to get an explanation from the police as to why we were removed from the Atlantic Center plaza, during the Build It Now rally. There’s an update on Atlantic Yards Report today.

The AYR blog also ran an open invitation from Delia Hunley-Adossa, chair of the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Executive Committee, for people to take pictures at tomorrow’s FCR organised rally:

"…this will be an excellent opportunity to come out to a FREE event… FREE food and give-away’s. Get a chance to meet some celebrity basketball players from the NETS… and take pictures… and enjoy the day."
(Our emphasis)

AY Camera Club will try and make it to Borough Hall tomorrow and hope that the police have been briefed by the CBA that they want photographers at the event.

Atlantic Yards Aerial Photos: Interview with Jonathan Barkey


Jonathan Barkey, Atlantic Yards Camera Club member, recently got to fly over the project area. We spoke to him to find out how he captured these dramatic images.

How did you get to take a helicopter ride around the footprint?

The Municipal Art Society of New York commissioned an architectural team to generate new renderings of the Atlantic Yards project reflecting developer Bruce Ratner’s recent admission to The New York Times that most construction will be postponed due to financing issues and the slowing economy. I participated in extensive group e-mail exchanges with MAS that led to the choice of shooting angles and ultimately, their decision to photograph the site from the air.

Why not use shots from The Williamsburgh Savings Bank or other tall structures around the footprint?

Believe me, everyone involved tried hard to get good photos from nearby buildings, since helicopters are really expensive. When MAS asked for existing images, I sent them a panorama I’d taken last year from a rooftop on Flatbush across from the "Miss Brooklyn" and arena sites; it was clearly too close but, at least, good for context.

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The Williamsburgh Savings Bank offers amazing views from its higher floors, but the angle isn’t quite right, and Forest City’s own Atlantic Terminal office building blocks key parts of the site. MAS also tried rooftop views from State Street and farther down Atlantic Avenue, neither of which offered acceptable proximity or height. I championed the idea of shooting from the Vanderbilt Avenue end—to show most effectively what would likely become a massive parking lot stretching west toward the arena. That’s the most shocking of the two views used in the MAS renderings, and the reason the website can be called "Atlantic Lots."

1779590-1606031-thumbnail.jpgTo help MAS, local photographer Tracy Collins, who has been methodically documenting the Atlantic Yards footprint and adjoining neighborhood, tried shooting from two different rooftop sites overlooking that block but they just weren’t tall enough. See the image, left.

How flexible was the pilot in terms of getting you the angles you needed?

He went exactly where we directed him, but said 500 feet was the minimum altitude possible. With four people in the helicopter and strong winds that day, he wasn’t able to hover, so we made wide, slow circles around the site, descending to about six hundred feet in eight consecutive passes. I remember telling the pilot to get closer and closer, particularly at the Vanderbilt end, for maximum visual impact.

1779590-1606943-thumbnail.jpgWhat equipment did you take? Did you have any special lenses or filters?

I used a Canon EOS 40D digital SLR and a 17-55mm f/2.8 image-stabilized lens. Stabilization, which reduces blur caused by camera shake, was necessary to counteract the strong vibrations from the helicopter. For good measure, I set a fast shutter speed—1/1000th second. Otherwise, no special equipment. I shot from the back seat out the right side of the aircraft, with the door removed to facilitate photography. As I’ve discovered during several such flights, it’s crucial that the photographer get the best seat; having someone sitting between you and the door or window makes the job much harder.

Did you have specific instructions from the people producing the 3D mock ups for the shoot?

Based on the pre-shoot brainstorming, MAS decided in advance that they were going to produce two renderings: one from the west with the arena block in the foreground, and the other from the east highlighting the "parking lot block" stretching from Vanderbilt to Carlton. Real-time shooting decisions in the air were based on my instincts and familiarity with the site. Time over the AY footprint was exactly 20 minutes. I captured about 120 separate images, of which MAS selected the best two.

What are your thoughts on the project now that it has been scaled back?

The project can hardly be described as "scaled back," despite the developer’s decision to lop 109 feet off the top of "Miss Brooklyn" (Building 1), a token concession first announced in 2006. Why? Because the rest of the plan is roughly the same, including its massive, neighborhood-killing size. But nobody actually believes anything but the arena and a few towers will be built any time soon.

It looks like a huge empty lot down there. Surely some development is better than that?

This tragic circumstance, resulting from the malfeasance of city and state government enabling a developer-driven process with no meaningful input from residents and elected representatives, allowed Forest City Ratner to demolish much of the neighborhood even though the full build-out was always a sham. That’s why a coalition of groups, now supported by local politicians who once favored the project, are petitioning Governor Paterson to call a "time-out" on further demolitions. Most people who oppose Atlantic Yards want to see development over the Vanderbilt rail yards—done responsibly and in true partnership with the community. A good start would be the community-driven UNITY Plan, a sensible framework that rejects lunatic scale, superblocks, egregious architecture, obscene public giveaways, and eminent domain abuse.

Who else has done independent renderings of the Atlantic Yards project?

e MAS project has many antecedents. My own efforts followed pioneering work by Jon Keegan (in the form of a Google Earth model) and Will James. The Environmental Simulation Center created both stills and a Google Earth model for the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods. Other visualizations appeared in New York Magazine.



Jonathan Barkey is an editor for American PHOTO magazine and lives in Brooklyn.