Storm-Ravaged Breezy Point Has a Fascinating Economic Model

Like many others, I’ve seen photographs of devastating storm and fire damage in the Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens and was naturally curious where exactly that is. It turns out to be the far western end of the Rockaway Peninsula sandwiched between two elements of the Gateway National Recreation Area (a kind of dispersed national park around New York Harbor) pretty distant from the city’s mass transit network.

It also has a very interesting underlying economic model. According to a 2008 real estate piece, the whole neighborhood is a 1.9 square mile co-op with about 5,000 members:

Security gates block almost all side streets, which are posted with intimidating no-trespassing signs. There’s even a distinct lingo: “Dinks,” the many powder-blue-shirted security officers, make sure that D.F.D.’s, or people who are “down for the day,” don’t use areas reserved for “Pointers.”

And that seems within their right: All Breezy Point’s private land belongs to a large co-op, which, like most Park Avenue apartments houses, curtails access. Here, though, annual charges are typically less than $2,000, for tap water, beach cleaning and basketball court maintenance, residents said.

It’s a reminder that as you go down into smaller units, the distinctions between private associations and governments can get a bit fuzzy. Most neighborhoods, obviously, aren’t private collectively owned coops in terms of their formal organization. But the spirit of hyper-local government—whether that’s a Community Board in NYC an ANC in Washington or whatever else you call it—often ends up being similar to what you’d expect from a private association. The idea is to support the interests of a narrow group of insiders—the public to which the local elected officials are directly accountable—rather than any broader concept of public good. So in a sense, Breezy Point is less unusual than it seems at first glance. Or maybe its mode of organization was unusual in 1960 when it was founded in its current cooperative form, but since that time more and more of local government in the United States has come to resemble Breezy Point’s privatized governance.