NYC is to replace “the entire” of the Coney Islands wooden boardwalk with recycled plastic

The planks of the Coney Island seafront are taken from a Brazilian tree known as ipê, a highly durable and rot-resistant tree whose extraction has contributed to the deforestation of the Amazon. The price of ipê has also risen markedly in recent years.

Defenders of a hardwood boardwalk see the Parks Department’s position as economical and convenient. Coney Island Councilman Mark Treyger said he had asked the Blasio administration to identify other hardwoods, either domestically or sustainably sourced from South America, but was brushed off.

“The Blasio administration has said no supply exists, but we later found out that was not the case,” Treyger said. “I do not think it is contradictory to push for robustness and the historic character of the seafront.”

When the privately funded High Line stopped using ipê in 2011, they switched to another tropical tree, a recycled teak from the industrial buildings in Southeast Asia. By comparison, the sections of the Rockaway promenade destroyed by Superstorm Sandy were rebuilt with recycled plastic and concrete.

In a presentation on removing a section of wood on the Brighton Beach stretch, the Parks Department said they had evaluated the cost and life cycle of various domestic and tropical hardwoods before concluding that each had “significant disadvantages” compared to plastic and textured concrete.

While concrete is the cheapest and most durable, it turned out that the recycled plastic “provides similar aesthetic standards to wood with a much higher life cycle than the wood options,” the agency noted.

Rob Burstein, a Brighton Beach resident who has organized rallies and petitions to keep the boardwalk, disagrees. He said the recycled plastic material is slippery when wet, hard on the soles of runners and becomes a “grayish color” over time.

“Our fight for a real wooden boardwalk is something that is not only important for the aesthetics, it is important for the way people use the boardwalk,” Burstein said.

There is also a prevailing feeling among some locals in Coney Island that the city’s lax supervision of the People’s Playground would not be tolerated at a more affluent destination.

Residents have been complaining for years about dilapidated stretches of the boardwalk, with nails sticking out, boards missing, and sections faltering – in part because of the heavy Parks Department vehicles that often drive across the trail, according to Treyger. Until earlier this year, the agency did not have a full-time carpenter dedicated to the boardwalk.

While the new funding is aimed at improving these conditions, the impending removal of wood has only exacerbated some residents’ frustration with the park department’s management.

“There’s always been the feeling out here that we’re the city’s untidy stepchild,” Burstein said. “Otherwise, the boardwalk would not be in this current state of decay to begin with.”

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