Conflict Story: A Calculated Gamble For Coney Island

Coney Island, C. 1947

Coney Island, C. 1947

It is July of 1947. The scorching city heat melts into the paved streets of New York City, as swarms of refugees head to the cool Atlantic coastline, to Coney Island. It is a place to escape into the comfortable warm breeze of the boardwalk, and to take part in the dynamic energy that is infused into the air. If it turns and twists or rocks and shakes, it is here at Coney Island. From rollercoasters to pristine beaches, the Wonder Wheel to glittering spectacles of every kind, Coney Island is a beloved destination where merriment is king, and where the dreams of childhood reign: America’s playground at its finest.

Coney Island, a densely populated peninsula in Southern Brooklyn, is a historic entertainment venue, one that is woven into the very fabric of New York. The area attracted millions of captivated visitors in the early 20th Century, yet as time plodded forward the following decades produced a hollow shell of what once was. Its signature amusement parks gradually closed one by one, as overly confident and bold investors planned a string of failed revival schemes through redevelopment.

The latest such attempt is a referendum passed on November 5th, 2013, which upheld a New York State constitutional amendment, marshaled by Governor Andrew Cuomo, to allow the construction of seven full service gambling casinos throughout New York State. There is a two-phase plan, with the first being approved construction of four gambling casinos in three upstate regions: the Catskills, Capital Region, and the Southern Tier, along the Pennsylvania border. The next phase will be implemented after a seven-year moratorium period, after which state legislators will determine the locations of three additional inner-borough casinos, with a popular option being the historic, albeit struggling, Coney Island.

The proposal is aimed at creating revenue and job growth for economically faltering New York neighborhoods. While 60% of voters were in support of the ballot referendum, coined ‘Preposition 1’, the topic remains a source of intense controversy.

According to a New York Times/ Sienna College poll, nearly 72% of polled New Yorkers expressed that it is likely casinos will bring significant new revenue for New York State, which is currently operating at a $2 billion budget deficit. However the sentiment has been, that some residents are leaning towards a “not in my backyard” approach. While they are supportive of gleaming new casinos as a reliable source of new revenue for the state, they are hesitant to express backing for a proposal that would land casinos close by, in their own neighborhoods.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

In his widely reaching campaign to win public support for the proposal, Governor Cuomo has pointed to rapid job growth, increased aid to education, boosted tourism and lower property taxes as an expected result of the new casinos.

“The votes are in,” said NY Jobs Now, a PAC which raised nearly $4 million from supporters of the proposal, “And New Yorkers – business and labor, Democrats and Republicans – have come together to bring billions of dollars back to our state, create thousands of good-paying jobs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue for schools and local governments.”

In return, opposing advocating groups, such as the Stop the Coney Island Casino Organization, have fueled their arguments around the potential consequences of a gambling casino in a residential area, such as Coney Island. They fear increased crime rates, the spread of compulsive gambling, depression of the local community’s economy, and an overall deterioration in quality of life in the area.

“If you want to see crime go up; if you want to see traffic go up; if you want to see small businesses go out of business- then support the casino,” said Councilman David Greenfield, a vociferous advocate against the proposal, “But if you care about the community, we must join together and stop the Coney Island casino.”

Of course, the approval of Proposition 1 is only part of a decades-long effort by the gambling industry to penetrate the New York market. For a specific area such as Coney Island, it is also not the first time it has seen an attempt in entering the gambling playing field.

In the late 1970’s, a plan by private investors to revitalize Coney Island by building gambling casinos, as in Atlantic City, backfired. A land boom was created at the prospect of a new casino, and state legislature failed to legalize gambling, leading to vacant lots and abundant disappointment.

Those empty lots still exist today in Coney Island. However, Governor Cuomo envisions a rebirth of the real estate with the potential casino building after the moratorium period of seven years. Every year, more than $3 billion is spent by New Yorkers in neighboring states’ casinos, a number that the Governor hopes can become reinstituted into New York State revenue, while also attracting tourists from competing states.

“Just in my apartment building alone, twice a month they have buses come and take people to Atlantic City,” Queens resident Albert Perrotto said in a New York Times interview. “If they take them to upstate New York or down here instead, it would be a shorter ride, and the revenue would come here instead. It makes a lot of sense to me.”

Supporters of Governor Cuomo’s proposal have highlighted returns of existing electric casino picslot machine casinos in New York State, as proof of positive results that can be expected to come. As of August 1st, the Resorts World Casino in Queens has sent over $329 million in taxes to the state, including about $210 million allocated for education. The ‘racino’ has also distributed 1,750 permanent jobs, with a large majority from the neighboring Queens community. According to the Empire State development Corporation, the introduction of the wave of new casinos is expected to provide nearly 10,000 new construction and permanent jobs, $1.6 billion in construction spending, and nearly $420 million in tax revenue. The central purpose of course, is aimed at providing immediate help to the struggling communities in which these casinos are to be built.

“Granted, there areas that are in need of economic revival,” said Brooklyn native Isadore Betesh, “In places such as Coney Island, I can speak as a consumer to say that new, modern, and upscale entertainment venues will only help in attracting visitors to the area, no doubt helping local businesses in the process. With so much money being spent by New Yorkers in surrounding states, it only makes sense that we should try to draw that revenue back in. As of now, they were getting all the revenue, and we were just getting the addictions and complications that come with it.”

While there is little argument that the new casinos will generate revenue, there is a clear discrepancy between the parties when it comes to how effective casinos will be in helping their surrounding communities.

“When people go to a new casino with six different gorgeous restaurants in it,” said Sam Sutton, long time Gravesend resident and advocate of the Stop the Coney Island Casino Organization, “There is no reason for them to ever go outside the casino, to local businesses. If you look at the casino in Queens, and if you look one block out from the casinos in Atlantic City, the neighborhoods are bleak. There’s no doubt about it.”

Area in Atlantic City, a mere few blocks away from popular casinos

An area in Atlantic City, a mere few blocks away from popular casinos

A highly profitable destination such as Atlantic City once had a median family income of $34,000 in 1980. In 2010, it was just $35,000, showing minimal improvement. With a median income of just $31,000, there is a valid concern that the resident community of Coney Island would simply not be able to support a new casino economically. In addition, there is always the uneasiness to the prospect of potential consequences that casinos may bring to surrounding residential areas.

“We are dreading the possibility of a casino being built nearby,” said Sutton, “Casinos bring a certain kind of element to the area, and they bring certain types of people. They bring crime and gambling addictions and prostitution…why do we need that? And to think that a community kid can literally get on a bicycle and ride ten minutes away every night to get involved with all of that—it would be a complete fiasco!”

According to an analysis of crime data conducted by Baylor University economist Earl Grinols, within five years of a casino opening, robberies in the area increase 136%, auto theft by 91%, burglary by 50%, larceny by 38% and rape by 21%. In addition, a study published in 2005 by the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions tells us that the chance of becoming a gambling addict doubles if you live within 10 miles of a casino.

In America today, there are over 15 million adults at risk for problem gambling. According to the President of the NY Council on Problem Gambling, Stephen Block, the problem lies in increased awareness of the nationwide issue.

“Although the council does not take a position on casinos being built,” said Mr. Block, “We do expect that with any expansion of gambling, awareness should be spread, and services should be provided for a person who has a problem, or may come to have a problem with gambling.”

Governor Cuomo has promptly answered that concern, by signing into law a bill requiring gaming venues to post information about compulsive gambling support services near every entrance and exit. Additionally, it required that signage providing a 24-hour hotline number and other support services for problem gamblers be clearly posted in all gaming facilities.

“Support and prevention is key,” said Block, “Because problem gambling is a spiral that affects many areas of your life, whether that be financial, physical and mental health, legal problems and relationships with loved ones—the list goes on and on.”

The potential for crime and gambling issues, while valid, has still not fully surpassed the substantial potential for increased revenue for the struggling Coney Island in the public eye. From house to house, and store to store, the approval of the possible landing of a casino in Coney Island remains decidedly mixed.

“Absolutely, let’s keep casinos out of Coney Island,” said a local shop owner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, “And while were at it, let’s close down all the bars too, because some people have a drinking problem, and let’s turn it into a pedestrian mall like Times Square, so no one will have a car accident. Nathans? That can close down too…way too much fried food. Close the ballpark, too, so nobody gets hit by a foul ball. And the Cyclone? A public health menace for sure– it can cause dizziness! Or, we could just let adults make their own responsible decisions.”

Coney Island Pic#1

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Cheap to Chic

The J train casts a shadow and covers the discount stores, apartment buildings and pedestrians walking down Broadway. In between of graffiti covered walls and empty lots turned into jungles stands a 5 month old Hotel & Hostel, sprouting the question: What is this doing here?

The B Hotel & Hostel uses South Williamsburg easy access to the city as a way to attract potential guests. It made its grand opening in July. The B Hotel & Hostel, is one of many new trendy businesses in Williamsburg that attract a demographic outside of its residents. “Tourists come from overseas,” said receptionist, “because we are next to the city.” Guests staying at The B, rent the bed that they sleep in since rooms are shared with other guests. Is the trendy north crossing  over to the simple south ?

Trendy businesses is not the only thing coming from the north. Although the south side of Williamsburg didn’t gentrify at the same rate as the north, slowly but surely changes are occurring. In the year 2002 and 2003 new condominiums started developing in South Williamsburg.

New housing being developed on the waterfront of South Williamsburg.

New housing being developed on the waterfront of South Williamsburg.

Although it is agreed that the condos are beautiful, longtime residents are worried of the effect they will have to affordable housing. “I honestly think that the new condominiums could be a good idea for the economy,” said long time Williamsburg

resident Iris Rodriguez, “but on the other hand it could be a great threat for the low income families since they are not able to buy one and in the future low income housing may disappear.” Residents fear that in the future many old buildings in South Williamsburg will be transformed into new and expensive housing.

“Some building was there and it was taken down to build a new, more expensive place which lower class can’t afford,” said Jorge Ovalle, a 29 year old Williamsburg resident since he was ten. “One thing I noticed is that there was this big church, don’t know why it was sold, but it was torn down and they built condos on that same location.”

The Domino Sugar refinery opened in the 1880’s and closed down in 2004. Now plans are being made by Two Trees Management to turn this factory  into over 2000 apartments. This same company helped transform DUMBO, to its current state of offices and expensive apartments.This project is

estimated to cost $1.5 billion.The purpose of these new apartments is to generate money while the profits of the office space that will also be developed are low. The idea of making offices and apartments is so residents can live and work in the neighborhood. Although the city has granted permission for this construction, the public still has its reservations.

“What small businesses will be able to afford the rents once the luxury towers get filled,” asks an online commenter on Curbed’s article Two Trees’ SHoP-Designed Domino Development, REVEALED! “Tenants will want big box stores, not the goods and services of locals.”

Will these new apartments, with a waterfront as a backyard, be as affordable as the buildings the longtime residents of South Williamsburg are used to? Two Trees will recieve the support of neighborhood representative, Councilman Stephen Levin, if they provide affordable housing.

According to MNS Real Estate, the average rent in North Williamsburg is $3499 and in South Williamsburg $1900. Making the south part of Williamsburg $1600 cheaper to live on average. As the south gets more apartment buildings that resemble the ones up north the $1600 rent difference is sure to decrease.

New luxury building that will be available in the beginning of next year/

New luxury building that will be available in the beginning of next year/

Like the B Hotel & Hostel, other new developments are taking advantage of South Williamsburg’s easy access to public transportation. The Garnett is a new luxury building on South 4th that will be available on January 1, 2014. The price of a studio apartment with one bath is $1,975 a month.  The price of a  one bedroom apartment will start at $2,350, making this housing development above the average rent price in South Williamsburg.

According to the Quarterly Survey of Brooklyn Residential Sales from the Douglas Elliman report, the average sales price increased by 23%. This report also shows that the rent is rising in not only Williamsburg but in neighborhoods all around Brooklyn. Reports show that cheaper rent can be found in some parts of Manhattan.

If affordable housing is eliminated from South Williamsburg, low income residents will have to move to another neighborhood that they can afford to live in.


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Tough Parking in Forest Hills

The black SUV behind me erupted with an irritated shriek as I slowed down to read the DOT sign that said, “One Hour Metered Parking.” Annoyed by the impatient motorist behind me, I sped away and made a right onto Austin Street, immediately getting stranded behind a double-parked truck. Traffic on the opposite side of the two-way road was dense; it was impossible to pass. The driver of the black SUV, who also made the right-hand turn, leaned on his horn again. “Where do you want me to go?!” I yelled into the rearview mirror.

I decided to make a U-turn, heading into a residential area of Forest Hills. After two rights and a left, a circular signpost caught my attention. It read, “Private Street. Permit Parking Only.” A couple of blocks further down, another DOT post indicated the stretch of public road I was about to enter was alternate-side parking only and parking restrictions would be going into effect in ten minutes.

When I finally found a space (a several minute walk from Austin Street), a pedestrian walking past my car must have discerned my frustration and said, “Parking is just horrendous here, man. There’s nothing you can do.”

With few parking spaces to spare on Austin Street and in the surrounding area of Forest Hills, Queens, some people opt to double-park their cars and trucks in the middle of roadways, causing traffic back-ups. Eric Isaac, who works in the area said, “One day a truck needed to unload and had nowhere to pull-in. Cars in that lane didn’t move for seven light changes.” He continued, “Surprisingly, people only started beeping after the third light change.”

According to Isaac, the few who find parking spaces aren’t finished in the parking war. “People are always out running to refill meters or switch their cars to the other side of the street on alternate side parking days. That’s just how it works here.”

An abundance of cars on the road coupled with city-regulated parking makes Austin Street a difficult place to find parking, and the area surrounding Austin Street offers little relief. To the south of the commercial stretch, roads become private, only members of a Forest Hills gated community can park there. To the north, Queens Boulevard, a multi-lane roadway, distances Austin Street’s patrons, commuters, and business owners from any additional parking spaces, while most of the streets in the area are decorated with alternate side parking signs.

Will Niklaus, a commuter who drives into Forest Hills, said, “I have to leave earlier when it’s an alternate side parking day. I spend more time searching for a spot, and I end up three blocks further from where I want to be.” Like most commuters, Niklaus cannot park at meters with one or two hour limits and is forced to search alternate side parking streets for spaces. He understands the necessity of alternate side parking, but thinks the city government should amend when these regulations are put into affect. “The city should change the times of alternate side parking to nights or early evenings so it won’t affect commuters trying to get to school or work.”

The New York City Department of Transportation doesn’t view alternate side parking as a hindrance. A 2008 study conducted by the DOT in Park Slope, Brooklyn, determined that “parking saturation” is the same no matter the status of alternate side parking, and that almost fifty percent of New Yorkers feel parking is equally difficult whether alternate side rules are suspended or implemented.

In Forest Hills, due to the many facets affecting parking, local government bodies are “guarded” when it comes to the parking situation faced by commuters, residents, and visitors. Frank Galluscio, the district manager of Queens Community Board 6, meets with the local police and fire captains every month to discuss various issues in the community. Galluscio said, “Parking is always on our agenda. We monitor ticket statistics compiled by the police department.” Though crime and moving violation statistics are available on the local 112th precinct’s website, parking summonses are not currently public record. Galluscio added, “We take this issue very seriously.”

The community board tries to work with business owners when parking interferes with their daily operations. “The Chamber of Commerce offers merchants deals when it comes to parking, sometimes in the form of parking permits,” said Galluscio. In addition to parking permits, private lots work out deals with business owners who need to come and go as they please. Galluscio added, “Our goal is to keep things running smoothly… We just look to realistically communicate that parking is tight here.”

The district manager cites a concert held this past summer as an example of exemplary communication with local businesses and the public. Mumford and Sons, a British rock/folk band performed at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, located a few blocks away from Austin Street, drawing an estimated sixteen thousand people to the area. Streets were closed to traffic, and a lot of parking was reserved for concert personnel. Galluscio said, “People were told parking would be a premium and wouldn’t be available that night. Concert tickets were labeled ‘Green Event’ and encouraged people to take the MTA or LIRR trains to the show.”

Local businesses welcomed the influx of people coming into Forest Hills even though it meant less parking was available. One Forest Hills business owner said, “Businesses just need accessibility. As long as people can get here… that’s most important.”

On the day of the concert, Station House, a bar that sits in-between the tennis stadium and Austin Street, was packed. Paolo Chioni, a server at the restaurant, said, “We definitely were not affected negatively by the concert. A lot of people came into the bar after the show ended.” Chioni continued, “Even regularly, it seems a lack of parking doesn’t really hurt us. People either walk here or just look for parking… a little further away.”

Patrons of the local businesses, who have to drive to get to the area, feel they are the ones left out of the situation. In addition to commuting into Forest Hills, Will Niklaus enjoys going to restaurants and shops in the area but often times opts not to visit his favorite hangouts. “If I’m looking for something quick, easy, or convenient I won’t go over to Austin Street. Parking is too tough.”

For Frank Galluscio and Queens Community Board 6, protecting the parking spots on Austin Street and open, realistic communication with the public is the key to the situation. “Right now we don’t want to lose any more parking spots than we already have… People understand parking is something they have to contend with. They don’t love it, but they understand it.”

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Muslim Leader in Brooklyn

Andrea Elliott does an excellent job profiling the conflicts the Imam Mr. Shata has to deal with on a daily basis, and frames it within multiple larger viewpoints to give the article greater depth. She focuses at first on the Imam’s background in Egypt before coming to the United States, and his economic struggles growing up. This presents the Imam as a humble and learned man, who worked hard to get to where he is now.

There isn’t much of a one on one conflict present in the article, just numerous small conflicts that are brought to the Imam for him to resolve. The article oftentimes presents the point of view of the attendees of the mosque, and the deep emphasis on the background of the islamic religion along with the Imam’s background makes the article more of a feature story than a news story.

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Protected: God’s Love We Deliver… to a Different Borough

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Reconciling two worlds

In the article, “A Muslim Leader in Brooklyn, Reconciling 2 Worlds, ” the author begin with a descriptive lead that intrigues the reader into this man on his journey through Brooklyn, the title doesn’t really do much but the lead’s description is very on point. Elliot’s story telling of  Sheik Reda Shata is very good in terms of showing the reader the rich history behind his landing in the United States and how his job has forced him to alter everything he knows to fit the needs of muslims in America.

I do feel like if this is a conflict story however, there should be more voices, throughout the reading you are basically stuck with Shata’s view and progression, there are quotes from others, but his voice is the main force of all the arguments in the piece, from his different encounters with situation in his office, all the way to his growing up and being persuaded by his father to not be a judge.

She does however develop conflict, when you think about how some pure muslims might disagree with his analogy that he has to be some sort of bridge in the middle of both worlds. The conflict is not so much that there are two sides, it rises more from the issue of having to alter muslims beliefs and traditions even by a little, just to survive in this new materialistic world that promotes all the things that muslim religion forbids.

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Reconciling 2 Worlds

“A Muslim Leader in Brooklyn, Reconciling 2 Worlds” is a feature story that is developed with a descriptive lead. The lead gives a clear picture of the imam, the neighborhood he severs, and the office he operates out of. The writer uses the in depth description as a door way into the conflict Muslim Americans are facing. Andrea Elliott delivers the conflict by dividing the story up into topical sections. Her colorful writing gives the piece life while lending understanding to the reader of the conflicts faced.

The story is mainly from the imam’s point of view with instances of outside voices like the Egyptian law professor at the University of California or the police officer from the 68th precinct. These voices added credibility to what the imam has stated concerning the community and its attempt to uphold it religious beliefs while adapting to the American way of life.

Elliot uses the imam as a catalyst for revealing all of the issues people of Islamic descent face. Small issues such as should one eat a big mac to international issues regarding terrorism are all brought into the story by the imam. The instances where stories of the issues solved by the imam are brought up never give names of the actual people and is the imam telling the story of a situation that took place that he needed to solve. The point of this story is to take the reader inside the life of a Muslim American.

As a result, the sources in this story are all on one side. That side is the one in favor of the imam and the Islamic tradition. Elliot uses analogies from the imam to show the different ideologies of Muslims in America versus Muslims in Egypt. “In Egypt, if a person passes through a red light, that means he’s smart,” he said. “In America, he’s very disrespected.”” Analogies like this are the closes thing to the other side given throughout the story.

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A Muslim Leader in Brooklyn

In her brilliantly vivid and descriptive article, Andrea Elliot is allowed access into a world that very few have seen before. It is the personal story of an Imam, Sheik Reda Shata, and his remarkable journey across tim, space, and culture, into a world he was ill-prepared to meet.

The story begins in present day Brooklyn where Mr. Shata works, then abruptly flashes back to Mr. Shata’s beginnings in Kafr al Battikh, perfectly capturing the juxtaposition between the radically different lifestyles. The reader is led through the dramatic voyage from a politically unstable Egypt with poor living conditions to the striking new modern culture of America.

Upon reaching his new mosque in Bay Ridge, Mr. Shata’s popularity soared. Where his religious sermons were censored in Egypt, Mr. Shata now had the freedom to captivate his audience with his authentic charm, confidence, and wisdom. In attaining the position as the new Imam, he also unknowingly took the position as judge, matchmaker, marriage counselor and police, addressing every concern of the local Muslim community. The story, after being supported by a intriguing base, revolved around the type of concerns that were being faced in the new modern culture, so intensely unlike his life back home in Egypt.

The conflict in the story, when finally revealed, revolves around Imam Shata’s internal ‘reconciling of two worlds’: the traditional and rigid culture and laws of his home, and the unprecedented and glaringly controversial issues that face community in the new American culture.  In writing the story, Ms. Elliot does not provide many sources, yet ironically, it is Mr. Shata himself that provides the balance of the conflict. On one hand he welcomes the ‘American’ issues with flexibility and creativity, while at the same time strives to remain firmly attached to the religious laws that guide his everyday life.

The article would clearly be classified as feature writing, as seen from the descriptive lede and colorful anecdotes. The author fully developed the story, setting the stage and then working back in time to demonstrate the long journey taken by Mr. Shata. I Also enjoyed the various ‘gold coins’ laid down in the beginning of the article, of the controversial Big Mac and the scare at the hospital.

The story had many moving parts, yet although the Muslim community has been increasingly exposed to the hard-edged modernity of America, the constant throughout is the unwavering support and leadership of Imam Shata, a man desperately trying to balance two very different worlds.


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