Sunday, September 28, 2014

Is Asbury Park ashamed of being blue collar?

September 28, 2014

We came to Asbury Park this week with no expectations except with the vague idea to seek out those remaining icons of the Asbury Park we missed because we mistakenly believes over the long years that the cultural heritage of the Garden State was in Cape May, and so we missed seeing the last decade of what really was, here closer to home.
Whereas Cape May pretended to preserve its heritage, it quietly turned its historic landscape into a themed shopping mall. Asbury Park’s city fathers abandoned all pretenses and simply bulldozed what could have become a remarkable revenue source in the vain attempt to become upscale.
This is not a new concept. Most of New Jersey is ashamed of its working class roots, especially after the highways allowed large swaths of former farms and rural towns to become bedroom communities to New York City.
The opening of the Garden State Parkway did more to destroy New Jersey’s self image than any other single entity, ripping open the state north to south allowing developers to sell the illusion of upscale to dim-witted, simple-minded little town officials. Everywhere suburbia cropped up like mushrooms so that sprawl spread from Lyndhurst to Tom’s River and clogged highways with cars and fumes for the daily commute to and from jobs in the big city. This is a similar con-job colleges sold to working class kids, saddling them with debt enough to last a life time even if they managed to get the upscale jobs they so desired.
It is too easy to blame I-Star, even if I kept thinking I’d meet Darth Vader when I came to their offices on the back side of the boardwalk, offices that face the legendary circuit Springsteen sings about, and even though I-Star plans for the continued destruction of the last vestiges of the old life such as The Stone Pony and the Wonder Bar the way the city managed to demolish all those other seaside icons that made Asbury Park unique.
The city fathers were so ashamed of their blue collar heritage that they would destroy the city in order to keep it from becoming another Wildwood, an icon of an American culture that celebrates the grease under its fingernails.
Racism played a huge part as well, feeding fuel to the fires of riot that plagued the city in 1970. It is still evident as city fathers seek to embrace a largely white upperly mobile population, while life on “the wrong side” of the tracks continues on as it always has.
The symbols have simply changed. Now the arcades that had once served white populations from elsewhere are vacant lots – with more vacancies being made each year after labor day when developers can move it, clear away people’s memories before the nostalgic people from elsewhere return the following Memorial Day, surprised the way people on an extended vacation are surprised when they come home to find that they’ve been robbed.
Inept, bumbling and sometimes corrupt city officials got seduced by developers such as I-Star the way Adam and Eve got seduced into believing there was a better paradise elsewhere and so lost the paradise they could have rebuilt and marketed, especially when musical icons such as Springsteen had put Asbury Park on the world map.
Yet even as they tore down the past, the city fathers included much of what wiser real estate experts knew: the development frenzy was coming to an end and the market was about to collapse. And the city fathers – like the last investors in any Ponzi scheme – found themselves holding the bag and taking the biggest loss – a loss they could have prevented and fixed had someone even opened his or her eyes to the reality of contemporary development.
But these city fathers wanted to create an upscale community, not a tribute to what had been, and so still cling to that concept even as physical reality makes it unlikely. Asbury Park may not be as remote as places like Toms River, but it is harder to get to off the Garden State Parkway, even if social changes weren’t making it a less desirable place to life year round for upscale people.
Toms River succeeded because it was the destination of a massive white flight movement from the north, as working class kids fled city’s with racial issues for Mecca of memories from their shore vacation as kids.
Even if the trend was still the same, whites aren’t coming to Asbury Park, because unlike Seaside and other fantasy islands, Asbury Park is a real city and has its own share of racial issues.
Worse the city father’s plans to destroy old Asbury Park is the change of trend. Kids aren’t running away form the cities, but back to them – now that monstrous laws put a huge portion of the black population in prison, allowing even more monstrous developers to plow down old neighborhoods to make room for upscale living.

The question now is who will rush into Asbury Park to live when they can move to places like Hoboken or Jersey City?

1 comment:

  1. A good question. But it won't be long before Jersey City and Hoboken are gentrified beyond recognition with more longterm residents completely priced out.