On Small Towns and Urban Planning

On Small Towns and Urban Planning

Several years ago, pre-9/11, some co-workers and I got together and took a trip into Atlantic City, New Jersey.

I don't know if this is still the case, but apparently, casinos had a deal with local bus companies that passengers would pay around $24 to the bus company, and the passengers would get reimbursed around $16 in chips at the casino once they arrived.

I don't remember a heck of a lot of the trip, except the woman on the Boardwalk with no arms and legs who played an organ with her tongue and playing a little $5 Blackjack.

I got bored and decided to take a walk. I left my friends behind and walked away from the boardwalks and casinos. I am bothered by conspicuous displays of wealth and I'd had enough.

Two or three blocks from the Boardwalk, I was struck by the contrast. It was a wide open space, with sparse vegetation, and people milling about, obviously intoxicated in one way or another. These weren't tourists, and this wasn't a "touristy" drunk. These were habitually chemically enhanced residents I was looking at. I remember looking south along this road (I can't remember what road it was), and seeing this high wall to my left and on the other side were casinos, high-priced strip joints, and more food than you could shake a stick at: wealth. Straight ahead and to my right were $20-a-blow-job hookers, crackheads, drunks, and buildings and homes in various levels of decay and squalor.

I was also struck by how careful they were when driving into Atlantic City to not show us this part of the city, not as if they were ashamed, but knew that this would reflect poorly on the casino owners if they saw what the city was like just a few blocks from the Boardwalk.

My first impression was that this wall was put there to keep these people out of the Boardwalk area. But my second impression was the one that stuck with me: it wasn't to keep those people out, but to keep the wealth, money, and power in. It wasn't just a wall: it's a vault.

The casinos in Atlantic City are like a tick attached to the real Atlantic City and sucking it dry for everything it is worth. This is why Donald Trump (who used to own a casino in Atlantic City, but I've heard he recently closed it) will always be a scumbag to me; the man is a parasite.

So, today, I went walking through my old hometown Patchogue here on Long Island, and I started to get creeped out by the same feeling: there are brand new shops and restaurants along Main Street, along with a brand new six-story apartment complex that I don't even think has opened yet.

Here again, though, you take a walk south along Waverly Avenue, and the contrast of just a block or two from Main Street is breathtaking: abandoned and boarded up homes, homeless and/or intoxicated people wandering around, sparse vegetation.

I don't know. It just doesn't feel right in ways I find hard to explain. The phrase that kept coming to mind was "putting lipstick on a pig."

It just seems as if they are putting a coat of paint on the town without refurbishing the soul of the town. It's a top-down approach that always bugs me.

It's not an easy task. It's like walking a tight-rope: you don't want to alienate the unfortunate, but make their lives better somehow. There has to be a solution that rebuilds a city both on the upper end and on the lower end.

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