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Old 10-03-2007, 06:59 PM
 
Location: High Bridge, NJ
3,858 posts, read 8,052,117 times
Reputation: 3317

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Given the encouraging comments I've received I figured I'd share of little more of my New Jersey ramblings. This was something I posted on a webforum dedicated to the Pinelands region (NJPineBarrens.com) when some folks were talking about the deplorable violence in Camden and Philadelphia, which of course are in very close proximity to the pines. Please comment:

I think that we as New Jerseyans have a very unique perspective on the topic of cities simply due to the fact that though we live in a relatively small state, we have a full spectrum of environments, communities, income levels, and types of people. We have Paterson, Newark, Camden, Trenton (my hometown-and I do state that proudly), Elizabeth, East Orange and Orange, Irvington, Vineland, and Atlantic City. Those, I would say, are our largest and most depressed areas of the state. Then we also have places like Alpine, Rumson, Princeton, Essex Fells, Jersey City (well the waterfront anyway), Atlantic Highlands, Madison, Chatham, Basking Ridge, Short Hills, etc...quite arguably the most affluent areas. We also have areas which are quite rural in the southern and northwestern areas of the state which are a stark contrast to the cities. The interesting phenomenon is the fact that it seems (and I'm sure that a comprehensive study would prove this) that many people in New Jersey are doing all they can to move further and further away from the cities if they're not leaving the state entirely. This, to me, is quite alarming, but it's not as cut and dry as blaming those who are "giving up" and moving out. A little background: one entire half of my family originated in Trenton. I was born there, but my parents had already moved out to Hamilton by the time I was a year old. My great grandfather had come to Trenton sometime around 1890 which, looking back, was at the beginning of the city's tenure as a major industrial, financial, and cultural capital, not to mention the state capital. My grandfather was a fireman working for the Pennsylvania Railroad at the time, and moved into a small upstairs apartment on Monmouth Street, within walking distance of the train station of course. He rented from the people who would become his in-laws (they were Irish and so was my great grandfather, so the marriage was somewhat arranged from what I'm told) for he eventually married their daughter, 10 years his junior. He and my great grandmother eventually settled into a small 3 story rowhome just down the street and had nine (yes nine) children. My great grandfather eventually made engineer and ran trains up and down what is now the Northeast Corridor until he died.

That small rowhome with a coal furnace in the basement was the pinnacle of success for a man like my great grandfather. Sure everyone was crammed into the small house, they had no car, but that was life. He worked for a company that almost has no equal today and had top pay and a rock solid pension. In fact, that home was still good enough for my grandfather when he married my grandmother (my great grandparents' youngest daughter) he bought it. Granted they only had five children, my grandfather bought a car, and they eventually got an air conditioner and a record player for the living room. Still, for a guy like my grandfather who had to leave school in 8th grade to support his family during the Depression, that was LIVING. Fast forward to 2007-the last time I drove down my grandmother's old street (the same one I played ball on no more than 17-18 years ago) a bunch of guys in red bandannas were loitering on the porch, glaring at me as if to say "What the hell do you think you're doing here?" So what happened to our cities? There is no easy answer. It's not just that "youth has gone wild," it's not "all the illegals," and the "welfare babies" aren't the sole cause either. The condition that our cities are in has deep deep roots. One could probably go further, but I'll start with the post WWII era. After my grandfather got back from WWII he married my grandmother, put his newfound skills to work (he was a combat photographer) for the local papers as a freelancer, and bought my great grandparents' house. However, many of his old friends from Chambersburg, sons of Roebling Steel, Trenton Pottery, and Home Rubber workers, were moving out to places like Hamilton, Lawrence, Ewing, and even places like "housing developments" in "Levittown," a novel alternative to the rowhomes of the city. Before WWII you had to have a good reason to live outside the city. The city was where the jobs were, and the limitations on transportation dictated that one had to be close one's job. Pre 1945 if you didn't make your living off the land, you didn't live far from the city limits of places like Trenton, Camden, Newark, and Paterson. In the late 1940s and into the 1950s this all began to change. More people bought cars and roads were improved. 1956 marked the beginning of the Eisenhower Interstate System, which allowed people for the first time to move beyond the cities (to the newly growing "suburbs") and still have a reasonable commute to work. The economic prosperity of the WWII boom, the Interstate System, the growing car culture, and the fact that gasoline was rediculously cheap, all contributed to those with the means (the upper and middle classes) leaving the cities. It wasn't because the cities were bad, or the people in them were bad, or for any other reason save for the fact that the parents of the Baby Boomers simply wanted better for their children than they had. They wanted the big house, the white picket fence, and the big backyard. By the hundreds of thousands all over the country, they got it. Once the post war generation had moved out to the suburbs, the big downtown department stores (Korvettes, Two Guys, Montgomery Ward, Bambergers) had less and less reason to be located downtown. The shopping malls became the focal point with their easy access and big parking lots. Why fight for a parking space on State Street when you could head to the new Quakerbridge Mall and hit J.C. Penney and Macy's all in one shot?

As a result of middle and upper class whites leaving the cities in large numbers, naturally others moved in to fill the void. By the 1950s Trenton had a higher African-American and Puerto Rican population than ever before. This in and of itself wasn't a problem, but it was a change. My mother, who grew up in a solidly Italian/Irish neighborhood remembers racial tensions as being always present in the background, but not quite boiling over until the late 1960s. In 1968 of course, all hell broke loose in the city following the assasination of Martin Luther King, but there were other contributing factors as well. Damages to the city amounted to around $7 million, an astronomical figure for the time. In the decade following, the riots proved to the be the death knell for the city. Anyone, black white or otherwise, who could afford to get out of the city did. Again, they went in large numbers to the still relatively undeveloped areas of Hamilton, Lawrence, and Ewing. For a short time, industry hung on even though the indigenous population had fled the cities, due to the fact that people could still commute in and out, which they did. Men still went into the city to work for Roebling, Home, Lenox, etc... State workers still descended on the capital everyday, and institutions such as the Broad Street Bank, Mary A. Roebling Bank, and others still commanded large workforces which came into the city every day. However, this would all begin to change quickly. As a result of the economic depression that gripped the country through the 80s, one by one the factories closed. The machines that made the huge cables that still hold the Brooklyn and Golden Gate bridges up fell silent, the pottery kilns cooled, and the banks were bought up and moved elsewhere. Eventually there was little skilled employment to be found in the capital city, save for the State of New Jersey. The factories, breweries, offices, and banks of the once vibrant city of 125,000 were all gone. Unfortunately the lack of employment couldn't have come at a worse time. The cities had now become concentrated areas of poverty as a result of bad government housing policies (that which produced "the projects"), white flight, local political mismanagement and corruption, and plain demographic trends. The majority of people who lived in Trenton at that point were either on public assistance, or subsisting on low/no skill or service jobs. The city of Trenton, which, not unlike Camden, Newark and Paterson, was once a place of close knit neighborhoods and families now became a place of broken homes, substance abuse, and social problems. The "perfect storm" which had produced the concentration of poverty we see today provided a breeding ground for the drug trade and the gangs which to this day terrorize our streets.

Now Trenton keeps its head above water simply because it houses the state capital, although it doesn't help much. State workers stream in by the thousands every morning and go right back out in the mass exodus that begins around 4:15 every day. Few who work for the state (one of the very few "industries" left) actually live in the city, although that is changing albeit in small numbers and very slowly. As a result of the years of corruption and mismanagement that have plagued City Hall and the leadership of the police department (the Mayor long ago abolished the position of Police Chief and appointed a civillian "Police Director" subservient to him) gangs and drugs have been allowed to run wild in the city. As a result of the concentration of social problems (not to mention the drugs and the gangs) the schools are a mess. Teachers do the best they can with the 6 hours a day they spend with their kids, but they have no control over the fact that the child probably didn't have breakfast that morning, is wearing the same clothes as the day before, and is going to go home to a parent that is either strung out on drugs, drunk, or simply not there because they're working a second or third menial job to pay the rent for a cockroach infested slum apartment. Slumlords are a huge problem in Trenton and they've profited handsomely from the white flight from the city. They pick up houses at prices far below market value, shoddily convert them to 5 and 6 family homes illegally, and charge rent that the average indigent resident can just barely afford. The slumlords perform no maintenance and simply let their properties rot. The tenants don't complain because either they are too afraid to lose the roof over their heads, or they themselves are conducting shady activities on the premises. The corrupt city government hardly ever conducts inspections or fines property owners for even the most egregious violations which can be easily seen from the street. Slumlords also care little about who they rent to so long as the rent is paid on time. Noise complaints as well as complaints from other law abiding residents about illegal activities occuring in and around the properties simply fall on deaf ears.

So, in light of all that, what do we do? Do we just move further and further out, reasoning that "the animals will eventually kill each other?" Do we turn a blind eye and hope that the crime and the problems don't invade our suburbs? In Hamilton, Lawrence, and Ewing they already have and will continue to unless a holistic, comprehensive approach is taken. One of the things that we need to do is reinvest in our cities. This goes beyond simply making the cities better places. In light of ever more rapidly dissapearing open space from High Point to Cape May, New Jerseyans don't want to see the last acre of pineland or skyland paved over. While we build ever further into what was once wilderness, our cities sit and decay further and further. However, there is hope. With energy becoming more expensive and transit villages becoming all the rage, our small cities (Camden, Trenton, Vineland, Plainfield, etc...) are poised to make a comeback as the "ultimate" transit village. Our economy has moved away from manufacturing, but the professional and tech sectors are still viable, and cities can be excellent places for people in these industries to live and work. Little by little, many of these folks are moving back and restoring old rowhomes and brownstones, or inhabiting lofts which were once industrial spaces. In the Mill Hill neighborhood of Trenton, many brick row homes dating to the 1840s and 1850s have been lovingly restored in a community that boasts nearly 300 families of all races, some Trenton natives, some transplants, who are all close neighbors, committed to bettering the city. Elsewhere, two factories and a hulking turn of the century bank building have been turned into brand new top quality market rate housing marketed towards young professionals and others interested in an urban environment. One of the great things about these projects is that not only do they not displace indigent residents, but they also enrich the community by providing a diversity of income. Take, for example, a young black child growing up in Trenton who lives on a block with drug dealers, thugs, and gang members. The only major influences on that kid's block are going to teach him how to steal, that the police are not his friend, and how to sell dimebags on the corner. Take, for example, a young black child growing up in Trenton who lives on a block that has a couple of artists who share a loft on the corner, a young couple who work in/around the Statehouse, and a city Firefighter (right now few city police, firefighters, or teachers live in the city), arguably, that kid is going to grow up around a better class of people. A group of people who are more inclined to pull his parents aside to let them know they saw him running with a bad crowd, or causing trouble. A group of people who can provide solid role models even if his parents aren't the greatest.

Trenton is by no means unique in its story. With minor similarities, Camden, Paterson, Newark, and all the rest traveled the same path from boom to bust. The causes weren't that simple, and the answers aren't that simple, but the fact is, unless we stop running for the hills, the problems of the city will only spread. I'm not saying its for everybody, but I try to do what I can to boost the city whether that means patronizing businesses, getting involved in grassroots stuff, or whatever. My theory is that eventually more people will have more reasons to return to the cities, which can restore the middle class and thereby strengthen their very fabric. In the meantime, I go to Tir Na Nog instead of TGI Fridays for a pint of Guinness. I get my haircut (and a shave and a little philosophy from a very opinionated old Italian guy) at the State Barber Shop. I grab a coffee at Cafe Ole on Warren Street instead of Starbucks in Princeton. Not to mention all the great dining that's still hanging on in the 'Burg and elsewhere from John Henry's to De Lorenzo's to Amici Milano. So that's my take on what's up with our cities, please comment.
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Old 10-04-2007, 08:13 AM
 
562 posts, read 2,373,804 times
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Since you ask.. this is straight from the elizabethnj.org website:

With a population of 125,809, the City of Elizabeth is New Jersey’s fourth largest city. As the Union County seat, Elizabeth contains most major governmental offices and courts servicing the County.

Chris Bollwage, a lifelong resident of Elizabeth, is serving his fourth term as the City’s Mayor. Bollwage recently completed his term as the president of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities. Nationally recognized as a leader for economic development, Bollwage’s administration has aggressively worked to revitalize Elizabeth and attract people to the great City. Since 1990, Elizabeth’s population has grown ten percent.

Since 1993, the current administration has worked to jumpstart $1.5 billion in economic development that has created 7,000 new jobs and brought to life retailers such as the jersey Gardens Mall, and the Loews Jersey Gardens theatre, the largest mall and movie theatre on the East Coast.

A catalyst for this success has been the City’s award-winning Urban Enterprise Zone program, which offers discounted sales tax. The UEZ program is administered by the Elizabeth Development Company and was named the number one program in the nation by the National Association of State Development Agencies. The UEZ has provided more that $50 million in additional funds for reinvestment includes funding for additional police, elaborate streetscape beautifications and enhanced infrastructure improvements, as well as many other economic development programs designed to help businesses succeed in Elizabeth.

The City is also home to the largest industrial seaport in North America, and Newark/Elizabeth Liberty International Airport. Hundreds of thousands are employed, and billions in direct and collateral revenues are produced through these two entities alone. Elizabeth’s two NJ Transit train stations provide quick access to New York City, and points westward and south through New Jersey. Its many transit buses also complement this complex transportation network, and provide convenient access to all corners of the City and beyond.

But if you ask the City’s Mayor what Elizabeth’s number one asset is, he will say it’s the people that make it special. Elizabeth boasts marvelous diversity, resulting in a wide range of culture and heritage for all to enjoy. Its people represent more than 50 countries and 37 language groups.

Elizabeth, as its core, has always been a City that has worked: from its roots in the industrial era in our country, to its later years as the current Country seat for Union and now, a retail and transportation center for the Metropolitan area.

From the days of its founding when great men such as George Washington and Alexander Hamilton walked its streets and as the first state capital of New Jersey, Elizabeth has been blessed with generations of residents who have defended the values of this country. Its legacy can be seen in the numerous memorials, historic sites and statues that dot the City’s landscape. This bold, pioneering spirit lives on today in its residents and is part of what makes Elizabeth a great American City that many are proud to call home, and many more love to visit.
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Old 10-04-2007, 08:14 AM
 
562 posts, read 2,373,804 times
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..continues..

The City of Elizabeth is in the midst of a real estate boom that has seen property values increase dramatically over the past decade, spurring a wave of new construction and renovation across its diverse neighborhoods. The Star Ledger newspaper reported that Elizabeth’s average home sales have grown an astonishing 78.8 percent in only four years.

Mayor Chris Bollwage noted that new residential construction has also doubled over the past few years.

“My administration has been building toward this goal,” Mayor Bollwage said. “When you take a holistic approach to government – reducing crime, creating jobs, cleaning streets, fixing potholes, rebuilding parks – property values will rise.”

The City has a number of governmental programs designed to help homeowners and investors. The Elizabeth Home Improvement Program administers a First Time Homebuyers program and a variety of grants for rehabilitating one-to-four family units, rentals units, units for the disabled, and a senior fix-it program.

For its children, the current administration has renovated 80 percent of its playgrounds over the past decade and has added three new libraries, six basketball courts, three Little League fields, two new soccer and football fields on the waterfront, and a new soccer field and baseball field at Kenah Field adjacent to Kellogg Park.

The City of Elizabeth continues to be a thriving urban center, but one with a suburban feel and plenty of greenery. As New Jersey’s fourth largest and safest city, Elizabeth provides a unique variety if distinct neighborhoods. From the mansions of Westminster to the affordable rentals near transit- there’s something here for everyone.

ELIZABETHPORT: Nowhere has this transformation been as dramatic as in the City’s oldest neighborhood - Elizabethport, where the City has already opened the doors on many new homes in its $90 million HOPE VI housing development.

The Port is also benefiting from new development at Portside Commons, Broadway Village, and Marina Village. The Urban Enterprise Zone program has provided walking police to patrol the area, and there’s a new library and human development center, and community center.

Perhaps the most diverse place in the City, Elizabethport is a collection of old world Elizabeth, new America, and a mix of colonial-style houses and apartment houses that stretch east of Routes 1 & 9 to its shores.

ELMORA: Bordering Union Township, this beautiful oasis of greenery and well-kept homes in considered by realtors to be one of the hottest neighborhoods to live in all of Union County. Divided into Elmora Hills, a mix of colonials on beautiful tree-lined blocks, and Lowe Elmora, a mix with some two-four family homes, this neighborhood is served well by Elmora Avenue, which has some of the finest stores and boutiques in the City.

A few of the City’s most luxurious high-rise building complexes- affording views of the New York skyline- dot the edge of this neighborhood and are convenient to the Midtown NJ Transit Train Station.

PETERSTOWN: Affectionately known as the “Berg” by its old-timers, this hidden alcove is located just south of Elizabeth Avenue, and maintains an Italian influence through its restaurants, delis, and cafes. Peterstown has clean, quiet streets and has many affordable housing opportunities with a “village” feel. The area contains the historic Union Square, home to produce stands, meat markets, fresh fish and poultry stores.

The area is also home to the Peterstown Community Center, which contains a new library, and has activities for seniors, adults, and children. It is located off the banks of the Elizabeth River, with a stunning view of Elizabeth’s downtown, and is a good place to watch the sunset.

FROG HOLLOW: A small community of homes just west of the Port, and south of Elizabeth Avenue, Frog Hollow contains older style, affordable homes, rentals and some quality restaurants in a working-class community. The statue honoring former Mayor Mack on Elizabeth Avenue is a landmark in the community. Frog Hollow is also convenient to the Veteran’s Memorial Waterfront Park.

NORTH ELIZABETH: This community contains many larger one and two-family homes that have been rebuilt over the past decade. The neighborhood has easy access to New York and Newark via its own NJ Transit Train Station, Routes 1 & 9 and the NJ Turnpike. North Elizabeth also features many well-kept apartment houses and condominium units on and around North Avenue that are home to professionals who work in New York or the area. The City also recently opened a new multi-purpose community center here.

WESTMINSTER: Home to the City’s largest residential estates - a mix of Tudors, Victorians, ranch houses, colonial split levels and more - this neighborhood borders Hillside and contains many distinctive properties. It is also home to a new public school, considered one of the finest in the City’s system.

The Elizabeth River runs through Westminster culminating in a dramatic splash of greenery and rolling hills off of North Avenue, near Liberty Hall. Residents use this area for recreation, whether it is at the newly christened Phil Rizzuto Park area, or for bird watching or for sunbathing by the river.

BAYWAY: This neighborhood is located in the western part of the City and borders the City of Linden. There are unique ethnic restaurants, bars, and stores along Bayway Avenue, and a variety of houses of worship. Bayway is also convenient to the Goethals Bridge that connects to Staten Island. Housing styles are older and well maintained. There are many affordable two to four-family housing units, and multiple apartments complexes.

KEIGHRY HEAD: This community is located close to Midtown, containing affordable one and two-family homes, and apartment houses, convenient to the Midtown shopping district, and transportation.
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Old 10-04-2007, 08:23 AM
 
562 posts, read 2,373,804 times
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Elizabeth is also under a huge redevelopment.. you can see this once you drive by the streets.. and it's proximity and all transportation available to NYC makes it a convenient place to live..
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Old 10-04-2007, 08:48 AM
 
Location: High Bridge, NJ
3,858 posts, read 8,052,117 times
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Just another example of a place where people screamed for years that it "couldn't be done." Well, lo and behold, it's getting there... Trust me, in 20 years, our cities will be very different places.
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Old 10-04-2007, 08:57 AM
 
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I agree Badfish740, its good to see someone is taking an interest in New Jersey's urban environments. I wish Newark, Camden, Trenton, Elizabeth, and Paterson the best of luck.
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Old 10-04-2007, 08:57 AM
 
Location: Sunshine N'Blue Skies
13,320 posts, read 19,659,786 times
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Badfish.........Your nostalgic visit back in time was wonderfully written, as usual.!
I love that you don't add bad politics to the mix. It is a part of, but not what makes a town what it is. A town is its people, its history and its reputation. It is its history as well as its future. A great town needs great people, or it falls. Crime, hate, and neglect bring about the downfall of many special places. We have to insist that our areas stay free of the ills that are creeping in, and flowing out in all directions.
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Old 10-04-2007, 09:13 AM
 
Location: High Bridge, NJ
3,858 posts, read 8,052,117 times
Reputation: 3317
Quote:
Originally Posted by Summering View Post
Badfish.........Your nostalgic visit back in time was wonderfully written, as usual.!
I love that you don't add bad politics to the mix. It is a part of, but not what makes a town what it is. A town is its people, its history and its reputation. It is its history as well as its future. A great town needs great people, or it falls. Crime, hate, and neglect bring about the downfall of many special places. We have to insist that our areas stay free of the ills that are creeping in, and flowing out in all directions.
Point well taken. Machine politics are as old as cities themselves. In Jersey City you had Frank Hague and before that, Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall in New York City. However, though the corruption was rampant, those cities were also in their heyday, so the corruption, as bad as it was, did less damage. The same corruption combined with economic decline however has a much more deleterious effect. Cities like Camden, Trenton, Newark, and Paterson became cities that no one cared about, and as a result, no one really cared who got elected or how. The last Mayor who cared about Trenton was Art Holland, arugably one of the most ethical honest men ever to be elected, but Trenton's growing problems eventually overwhelmed him. However, he was the "father" of the Mill Hill movement which eventually turned a horrible neighborhood into a close-knit well kept community. As a result, Trenton now has a Mayor who has made corruption an art simply because few people care enough to stop him. Sharpe James did the same thing for years, but finally was ousted by Cory Booker, who is finding out firsthand how hard it is to undo years of corrupt government rule.

Summering-you are correct that great cities need great people, and many of those great people are beginning to move back, starting grassroots efforts to stop violence, end corruption, and bring about good government, but it's a slow process...

Quote:
Originally Posted by NewYorker1970 View Post
I agree Badfish740, its good to see someone is taking an interest in New Jersey's urban environments. I wish Newark, Camden, Trenton, Elizabeth, and Paterson the best of luck.
That's all I'm asking really. I hate that many times in this state that there is such a divide between urban, suburban, and rural. Many rural/suburban folks will be the first to tell you that you'll be shot as soon as you cross the border into any of these places. It never used to be that way. My grandmother on my father's side, who was born and raised on a farm in Columbus, has great stories about what a thrill it was to take a ride up Route 206 and down South Broad Street into "the big city." For a little girl in the 1930s born in a farmhouse with no running water Trenton was an entirely different (and exciting) world. She can tell stories about the department stores, the stately women walking down State Street in fur coats and hats, the moviehouses, etc... Eventually my grandmother settled on a small farm of her own with my grandfather in Hamilton, but she never shunned the city. It just wasn't the way she was raised. I wish more folks had my perspective when looking at the two different environments, but where you stand depends on where you sit

Last edited by Badfish740; 10-04-2007 at 09:21 AM..
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Old 10-04-2007, 11:13 AM
 
2,758 posts, read 5,216,879 times
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Although AC's been down at the heels for a long time, the trend, finally-finally looks like it's actually going to end as more developments are underway(no longer just talks and dreams) Revel and Pinnacle Entertainment are both constructing 1.5-2 billion dollar casinos on the Boardwalk which should add significantly to the city and state's treasury.

Even though gambling itself does not necessarily 'save' a city, it can be used as a catalyst for development. The problem was that AC didn't know how to do it right, because it hadn't been done before. But the housing stock has improved, old derelict neighborhoods have been transformed and more development is on the way.

MGM plans:

MGM Mirage plans multibillion-dollar casino resort for Atlantic City (broken link)

sure more can be done, but comparing AC today to AC 30+ years ago and you really have no comparison
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Old 10-04-2007, 11:20 AM
 
Location: Sneads Ferry NC/Randolph NJ/Cape Coral FL
12,928 posts, read 24,052,828 times
Reputation: 10744
Quote:
Originally Posted by 66nexus View Post
Although AC's been down at the heels for a long time, the trend, finally-finally looks like it's actually going to end as more developments are underway(no longer just talks and dreams) Revel and Pinnacle Entertainment are both constructing 1.5-2 billion dollar casinos on the Boardwalk which should add significantly to the city and state's treasury.

Even though gambling itself does not necessarily 'save' a city, it can be used as a catalyst for development. The problem was that AC didn't know how to do it right, because it hadn't been done before. But the housing stock has improved, old derelict neighborhoods have been transformed and more development is on the way.

MGM plans:

MGM Mirage plans multibillion-dollar casino resort for Atlantic City (broken link)

sure more can be done, but comparing AC today to AC 30+ years ago and you really have no comparison
Hey that's great to read
Now if only they could restore some luster to Asbury park.....sigh.....
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