Did you know that you’re not allowed to fly a kite in a New York City park unless you’re at a city-sponsored kite-flying festival (which occasionally occur) or in a specially designated kite-flying area (none of which exist that we know of)? Still, that doesn’t mean people don’t do it; kite-flying has practical purposes—from Benjamin Franklin’s electricity experiment to military applications—but it’s also pure pleasure: a connection between man and sky, a fundamental union through wind made manifest. DNAinfo last week published a list of the best places for kite-flying, including the longest uninterrupted stretches of open space in Brooklyn: the beach at Coney Island, the Long Meadow in Prospect Park. But they neglected to mention the single greatest spot in Brooklyn for flying a kite—probably because you can practically get arrested for trying to fly a kite there.
As a kid, my family took a lot of car trips east—excursions to Riis Park or to visit family living on Long Island—which meant circumnavigating the Brooklyn coastline, following Robert Moses’s ill-conceived Belt Parkway. As we would approach the stretch of Dyker Beach Park along the waterfront, accessible by the Bay 8th Street pedestrian bridge, you could see as many as two dozen kites come into view, the labor of hobbyists, some of whom had been coming down to this spot since the 60s to send up their tailed, lightly framed cloths. It was a quintessentially Brooklyn thing, a little bit of random beauty amid the ugliness of highway, and cars often slowed here so passengers and drivers could crane their necks skyward for a peek.
The Giuliani administration decided people slowing their roll to appreciate the world around them, thus causing slight traffic delays, was cause to shut it down. (The city also accused the kites of being responsible for car accidents. “Hey! If a driver can’t keep his eyes on the road, it’s their fault, not ours,” one Dyker kite-flier told the Daily News in 2000.) In 1998, the spot in Dyker was declared a no-fly zone. “Park authorities posted no kite flying signs all around the perimeter of this ideally windy field—pretty blue-and-white kites snared inside red slashed circles,” New York magazine reported at the time. Enthusiasts continued to frequent the spot, flying their kites defiantly, “the most radical… simply tearing down the signs.”
But police intimidation did its job. Cops wrote summonses, threatened to confiscate kites, even threatened jail time, kite enthusiasts said. Drive down the Belt Parkway today, and as you approach Dyker Beach Park, you’ll see nothing but a lonely patch of grass and trees.
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart