2012-07-13 / Editorial/Opinion

Does A Fence Make Good Neighbors?

For more than 100 years, a series of fences stood on Beach 149 Street, from the beach wall to the high water mark, delineating the Neponsit community from the Riis Park beach. For most of that time, Riis Park belonged to the city and the fence, and a companion about 200 yards west, were there to keep TB patients from roaming from the Neponsit Home and onto adjoining beaches. When Riis Park was taken over by the National Park Service more than 20 years ago, the remaining fence became something of a border between the city and federal beach, a border that could easily be crossed by walking or swimming around it. Nobody seemed to care that it was there. At the end of last summer, however, the fence was blown down and carried away by Hurricane Irene. In the interim, a new agreement was announced between the National Park Service and the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation that would bring a new and brighter partnership between the two, an agreement that spelled the end of a fence between the two beaches. And, therein lies the problem. For years, with tacit agreement of the feds, the easternmost beach at Riis Park, the one that adjoins Neponsit, has been something of a “clothing optional beach,” where both women and men could bathe au natural without much official condemnation. When New York State courts ruled that it was discriminatory to force women to wear a top when men did not have to, topless bathing became legal on both beaches, and remains so. Neponsit residents, however, claim “lewd” behavior such as sex on the beach and defecating in the ocean since bathers from Riis Park have been migrating to the Neponsit side of what had once been a fenced-off beach. The Neponsit residents say that the lewd behavior is anathema on a “family beach,” and that reinstalling the fence is the only way to stop the problematic behavior on the beach. A fence, however, seems archaic in a modern world where topless bathing is legal. After visiting the beach, we found that the people who populate Riis Park beach don’t want to come over to Neponsit and would just like those who use the city beach to stop gawking at their nudity. It seems that a fence may solve the problem, along with a little common sense on both sides.

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