Asbury Park—A Small City with a Big Revival

Anyone who lives in a major American city today is certainly familiar with the popular buzz word “gentrification.” Merriam-Webster defines it as the “process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.” Cities such as New York, Boston, and San Francisco have been experiencing some of the most perceptible and astonishing gentrification. However, not all of the cities undergoing gentrification are major metropolises; even shore towns and small boroughs on the Northeastern seaboard have experienced just as much of a revival.

One such city is Asbury Park, New Jersey, which is situated a mere 50 miles from New York and not much further from Philadelphia. During the 1920s and ‘30s, it was considered the veritable jewel of the North Jersey Shore: Millions of visitors came there from all parts of the country for conventions and vacations and some of the most celebrated musicians of the day performed there, such as Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland. Its fate changed in the 1960s, however, when the United States was undergoing rapid suburbanization. On July 4, 1970, race riots broke out in Asbury Park and persisted for six days. They left the entire city in ruins.

For decades, the city was plagued with crime, but, later, the trend began to change and the city seemed to have a brighter future. In 1994, when the city was still in a state of deterioration, the crime rate per 1,000 was 103.6 and, in 2007, it dropped to 64.7. In 1994, the non-violent crime rate was 80.6 and, in 2007, it dropped to 43.5. During the same period, violent crimes were almost cut in half, and, since then, Asbury Park has undergone gentrification and has experienced a veritable Renaissance. Its boardwalk now features expensive restaurants and clothing boutiques. Its roads, which were once crumbling like ruins, have been cleaned up and paved over. Its beach, once abandoned, can barely contain the number of visitors who go there. Most of all, it now has a thriving arts community as well. Asbury Park has experienced the same revival and gentrification that is happening in all of America’s biggest cities.

Even though New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia are drawing the most attention for their recent revivals, small towns such as Asbury Park are undergoing a smaller but just as impressive rebirth as those of the United States’ most notable cities.

Credit: Steven Bonhoeffer