City Beach NYC is the brainchild of real estate professional Blayne Ross, a Florida native who has decided that it’s high time that Manhattan has a sandy beach of its own. He’s seeking $35,000 on Indiegogo to kick off the plans, which will involve converting a floating river barge into a Highline-like strip for people to soak up some rays, complete with cabanas, a food court, and a waterfall to make up for not being able to swim in the Hudson River surrounding it. It’s also an attempt to sell a luxury real estate project using the rhetoric of public space.
The need for the beach, Ross argues on his IndieGoGo page, is because no suitable one yet exists in Manhattan. When it’s sunny out, outdoor spaces in New York City are crowded. “New York City is an island surrounded by water with no sand, “ Ross wrote on his page. “I want to create a public park for everyone to enjoy and take a break from the concrete jungle we exist in everyday.”
Of course, New York City isn’t an island. But that’s a clue to the vision of the project: Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and The Bronx don’t count here. The ample beaches accessible by public transportation from Coney Island to the Rockways, the ones that actually provide exactly the vision that Ross is touting here? Yeah, forget those. This is isn’t actually about the public good of New York City citizens. This is a convenience project in the manner of as-seen-on-TV innovations, designed to solve a problem you didn’t know you had.
It’s one thing to design a commercial real estate venture, and it’s quite another to ask for the people of New York to fund it. The description of the project isn’t one of public space in the truest definition of the term, but one of those hazy public-private conglomerates, supported by sales of Margaritas and cabana rentals. It’s essentially like Starbucks asking for you to crowdfund their outdoor patio.
Public space, especially in a place like New York City, is important. There should be more of it. But true public space is rare. Most of what we know as public space in New York City is actually privately owned public space, patios and outdoor areas created by corporations because it means a zoning concession from the city. These areas, though publicly accessible, are often strictly policed. They can make and enforce their own rules, eject “undesirables” as they see fit. No doubt, City Beach NYC would be one of those, another wing of a playground for the rich denizens of Manhattan with an invisible barrier to those beyond.
That’s perfectly legal, but advertising it as a rally for public space—and further, asking for financial support as if it was a charity of some kind—is disingenuous. Sure, it’s a community project. But what community is City Beach NYC actually intended to serve?
Follow Margaret Eby on Twitter @margareteby