There are some places that are clearly magical. Washington Square Park is one of them. Asbury Park, along the Jersey shore, is another. I spent summers during my college years at the clubs there seeing bands when Bruce Springsteen (bursting at the seams of fame) would jump on stage at the Stone Pony or The Fast Lane. Asbury at that time was run down but nonetheless full of charm.
Recently, Asbury Park has been privy to its own “renovation,” and like New York City’s redesign of Washington Square Park, there’s this drive by the powers-that-be to erase the old. Any signs of grit or bohemia – bulldozed over. The major difference with Asbury is that it has the ocean – which is magnificent – and the town is so large that it’s difficult for any one entity to erase everything magical about it.
I walked around Asbury yesterday. There’s this apparent tendency by developers to want every inch of space to be allotted to high end restaurants, galleries and stores, as if it’s attempting to be Soho or “NoLiTa” — instead of letting it be what it is. There are closed storefronts that once housed hair salons and electronics stores and video stores. One of the local weeklies, the Tri-City News, has article after article stating, that, with the economic downturn, rents are down and new creative businesses can come back to Asbury and Red Bank. !
Why does it take an economic downturn for the creative to blossom? Is the only value to landlords and developers (and people like Mayor Bloomberg) money and real estate – and the accumulation of both?
Asbury Park will always have a magical spirit, no matter what they do to it. There was a time when it was seedy and charming and, if just left to its own devices, it would have rebounded in a harmonious, organic way.
But instead, with the corrupt government’s blessing, “investors” came in, including, inexplicably, Johnny Cash and Michael Jackson and Henry Vaccaro, and began constructing a building that blocked the famous driving strip along Ocean Avenue. They soon declared bankruptcy and left this monstrosity, like a shipwreck protruding from the sea, there. in the middle. of everything. For years.
The town went careening downhill from there. Now, they are taking a new stab at “revitalization.” New “developers” appeared earlier in this decade. Instead of proposing a few tweaks here and there, their plan was to reconstruct miles and miles, take property via eminent domain, to bring Asbury Park ‘back.’ The city government, again, went for it.
There are similarities between the saga of Asbury Park and Washington Square Park. Both places had ups and downs. Heydays and not-so-great days. But both were at a place where they just needed the city to come in and do a little bit of repairing, grease the mechanisms a bit. Instead, they swoop in with their charts and graphs and maps and attempt to wipe the slate clean.
There’s seemingly this driving force behind it: a need to make everything somewhat whitewashed and devoid of its history. To make these magnificent places homogenized and stripped of the very qualities that make them so special. To make it all the same. The strip mallification and corporatization of every inch of space. No one is more of a proponent of that, via his policies and endless development of New York City, than Mayor Bloomberg.
How do you legislate appreciation of the gritty?
*Updated and revised version of entry originally published July 2nd, 2008*