“Saving” Coney Island: The Construction of Neighborhood Heritage

Juan Rivero, J.D.
Doctoral candidate

Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University

Faculty Lounge, 3rd floor Armitage

Landmark or blight? Treasure or garbage? Features of historic neighborhoods — often those that one would least expect — evoke this type of question, pitting against each other divergent views about the meaning and the future of these places. This talk examines a historic preservation controversy that surrounded the redevelopment efforts in Coney Island during the late 00s. This longstanding amusement district in Brooklyn, New York inspired widespread agreement about its importance as a heritage destination. This apparent agreement, however, belied profound differences over the neighborhood elements that contributed to its iconic stature and about how those should relate to plans for the area’s redevelopment. Because heritage value is not an inherent attribute of the built environment, these conflicting cultural claims raise questions about how a sense of heritage comes about and what purpose it serves. My discussion explores the processes by which elements of Coney Island came to be valorized and classified as objects of heritage. By reconceptualizing heritage as a process–as opposed to an inherent quality–I recast debates about the benefits and burdens of preservation and redevelopment. I also pose a challenge to preservation efforts that assert value claims and issue redevelopment demands without first tackling the anterior question of why and how places of heritage matter.

Juan Rivero is a doctoral candidate at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. His research deals with the cultural politics of urban redevelopment. He is interested in the values that people ascribe to places and in how those relate to the values that underlie prevailing planning practice. His dissertation, “Saving” Iconic Places: Coney Island’s Wild Redevelopment Ride, examines a set of controversies that surrounded the 2009 rezoning of Coney Island, a historic amusement neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. He explains these controversies by examining the origins of the divergent meanings attached to the neighborhood and tracing their articulation throughout the planning process. His work builds on inter-disciplinary scholarship on the politics of spatial representation and on the experiential dimension of place, intersecting with urban concerns such as gentrification, preservation, tourism, and place-making, among others. Juan has a Masters degree in Urban Planning from Columbia University and a JD from the University of Chicago Law School.


Lunch will be served.


Date & Time
February 26, 2016
12:15 pm-1:30 pm