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OpinionColumnistsMike Vogel

Under the concrete slab? No phony Coney

People walk on the boardwalk in Coney Island

People walk on the boardwalk in Coney Island Brooklyn, on August 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

OK, now spring is here. Coney Island officially opened Sunday, providing unexpected thrills when the Cyclone froze right before the big drop.

As opposed to Disney theme parks and other plastic playgrounds, Coney has always been the real deal: Luna Park, Nathan's, the ocean, the boardwalk . . .

Did I say boardwalk? Not so fast. The city has been replacing the classic wooden boards that date to 1923 with some combination of concrete and recycled plastic. In late December, the Landmarks Preservation Commission heard a plea by community activists to designate the Coney Island boardwalk a historic site. It brushed off the request, with parks department officials insisting the new synthetic material is "sturdier and much cheaper."

But those who treasure Coney Island kept trying, and last week the commission said it may review requests to keep the board in boardwalk instead of replacing it with a synthetic slab. "If significant new information is submitted, the commission will review it," spokeswoman Damaris Olivo told the Daily News.

Significant new information? Maintaining the boardwalk's real wood will never be a cheaper option -- at least in the short run. But in the long run, the cost to Coney Island's authenticity will be real, which may include a decrease in tourism. The boardwalk is a vital part of its charm. "Under the Boardwalk" is a classic song for a reason. "Under the Concrete Slab"? Please!

NYC has been over-homogenized for too long now. Mom-and-pop stores have been replaced by a glut of banks and drug chains. Forty-second Street has been Disneyfied. (Revitalization of Times Square was needed, but couldn't we have kept a NYC theme?) Our city is losing its character and charm.

But if decision-makers insist on saving a few bucks at the expense of destroying what makes us unique, why not go all the way? Do flowers at the Brooklyn and Bronx botanical gardens all need to be real? How about the animals at the Bronx and Central Park zoos? Is that chimp real or animatronic, mommy?

Installing hybrid concrete planks at Coney Island will undoubtedly save a few bucks. But preserving its boardwalk and other iconic locations that make our city unique? Priceless.

Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at


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