Isn’t a boardwalk, by definition, a walk consisting of boards? And aren’t boards, by definition, pieces of wood?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary thinks so. It defines BOARDWALK as “a walk constructed of planking,” but tell that to the refurbishers at Coney Island. They plan to replace a five-block stretch of the iconic Riegelmann Boardwalk with – would you believe – concrete! And if that part meets their expectations, much of the remainder of the historic, 2.7-mile-long walkway could wind up the same way.
So say the New York City officials who broke the news this week at a local community board meeting. The concrete slabs, to be installed between Coney Island Avenue and Brighton 15th, will not even remotely resemble wooden planks. John Natoli, chief engineer of the Parks Department, says they will be tan in color, and textured to give the appearance of pebbles and sand. According to Brooklyn Parks chief of staff Martin Maher, “It’s not going to look like wood at all.”
Why would such a travesty be approved? Two reasons.  Economy. Concrete is stronger, lasts longer, and costs less than wood or plastic.  Safety. Concrete is less slippery when wet than wood or plastic.
Those could be the only positives. Boardwalk aficionados feel differently about it, and they haven’t been shy about making their feelings known.
“I walk on concrete all day long,” one man told a CBS News reporter. “I need a break from it.” Another complained that he will miss what he called the “clack,” since concrete “doesn’t make the same sound against the feet.”
“Not only is it going to be ugly, it’s going to be unbearably hot,” local resident Ida Sanoff told Michele de Meglio of The Brooklyn Paper. “People are not going to be able to walk barefoot over that.”
Purists are not the only objectors. The Coney Island Boardwalk is a favorite of runners, who particularly appreciate the resilience of wood beneath their pounding feet. Medical experts back them up. As Arun Ramappa, Orthopedic Surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, states on YouTube, “Running on concrete accentuates the high-impact nature of running, and can precipitate injury.”
Exempt from the overhaul is the amusement area between West 10th Street and Stillwell Avenue, but that’s only because it’s already been renovated … in wood.
Coney Island’s famous Riegelmann Boardwalk was built in 1923. If you want to experience this treasure in its original state, you have about a year in which to do it. Work on the five-block stretch of concrete is expected to begin late in 2011.
Michele De Meglio, “A Concrete Boardwalk? Call it the Riegelmann Sidewalk in Coney,” The Brooklyn Paper
Arun Ramappa, MD, “Is running on concrete bad for your knees?” YouTube
Sean Adams, “Coney Island Boardwalk Could Become Sidewalk,” CBS News New York
Erin Durkin, “Coney Island folk rage over plan to put concrete in place of historic boardwalk,” NY Daily News
“Part Of Coney Island Boardwalk To Be Replaced With Concrete,” NY1 News