This Ginia Bellafante column railing against the new gourmet food court at Jacob Riis beach is, in my view, wrongheaded. So what if affluent people enjoy taking the ferry to this public park and purchasing oysters when they get there? The beach is also accessible by subway, public bus, and car. And as Bellafante notes, there is a large area for grilling and picnicking, which is typically filled with black and Latino families. She claims that the split between the food court and the grill area makes this a “segregated” beach, and somehow also manages to blame helicopter parenting: “the constant prodding of children toward achievement, the endless roundelay of enrichments that begins at conception, the eviscerating process of admission to a suitable college when, really, it will all end here, in a hangover on a boat to the beach where the only corrective is more to drink.”
When I was a kid growing up in the New York area, my middle class white family never went to city beaches. We drove out to Long Island or Connecticut and were surrounded by people much like ourselves. I’m glad New York beach culture has evolved. It would be one thing to call for a Nathan’s hot dog stand at the new food court. Come to think of it, that’s a great idea. But the worst thing for a city is when its more privileged residents abandon its public places: its beaches, its parks, its schools. That is segregation. In 2015 at Jacob Riis park, New Yorkers of every type are enjoying the scenery, sunbathing, and swimming together. That leads to investment in our public sphere. And if quality, fresh food helps draw people, that’s a good thing.