Greetings From Asbury Park

Asbury Park New might have heard of it from Bruce Springsteen perhaps? Or it's roaring '20s boardwalk heyday? Or even as the backdrop for countless movies, most importantly part of Woody Allen's Stardust Memories (Ocean Grove too!)? Either way, I grew up going to this seaside town and have watched it shift and change throughout the years. Take this weird Casino Arcade (picture at very bottom) for instance. When I was little there was a carousel in there, then I remember going to a card/pog show whenever the hell the pog revolution happened (the original pog too, straight from the milk bottles of Hawaii!), then as a teen it was some sort of makeshift squatter skate park, and now...? I'm not quite sure? I think they have events in there? Or is it just a shell of a place to be looked at? The town has been getting popular again lately as businesses, galleries, storefronts, The Boss, and other touristy enterprises leak back into the oceanfront. Gentrification is such a weird thing, I will always have a love/hate relationship with it. I've sort of ranted about this before on the blog in the form of eminent domain...and it always comes down to one thing for me: is progress just commerce nowadays? Bringing culture into an area is something I encourage, but there has to be a way to bring new culture into depressed areas that doesn't displace the pre-existing culture...Or to infuse arts and culture into a town without making it about real estate? Maybe it's a matter of affordability? Maybe new transplants into areas should offer discounts to locals as a way of bridging the gentrification gap? Or offer some sort of subsidized housing for every new condo or mansion-in-a-box that gentrification brings? I dunno. At least in terms of Asbury Park there is a continued attempt to uphold a certain cultural history/appreciation...even in the face of countless new, mediocre looking Italian Eateries and massive amounts of tchotchkes adorned with the face of Tilly.

Apart from the many music venues (namely the legendary Stone Pony, a venue I've been frequenting ever since I could understand the Ticketmaster window at the local record store...records? Ticketmaster? Oh dear I am old vintage!) the new addition of an indie cinema is adding to the promotion of a new form of culture in Asbury! The Showroom (pictures in middle) is the kind of movie theater I adore, a small space currently with pillow adorned lawn chairs (they are actually really comfortable!), the giving away of extra popcorn for whoever's birthday was that day, a raffle for a copy of the book the film we were about to see was based on, dodging the digital projector sitting in the middle of the room so as not to cast shadows upon the image, the audience small but respectful- I loved this place! Even the overzealous theater manager urging you to try out the new chairs (which will be implemented upon a theater expansion to a space across the street from the current location) and opening the door for you to enter as he kept watch over his neighboring expansion exposed a real love for bringing movies to the people in a place that wants to return to the days of it's former glory (one might even say it's Glory Days)!

As I wandered around the boardwalk of this shore town, tourists with accents taking pictures of the well lit decay (bringing to mind the "Detroit Ruin Porn" conundrum) and crowd-like families escaping their tiny apartments, I wondered what the next phase of this town will be? Will it continue down a path of places to buy things? Or will it continue to try and be creative? To create experiences like it did for me: emerging from the roof of an indoor/outdoor ferris wheel that used to skim the sky above Palace Amusements (which is now completely torn down, and is above in a picture of a picture of an old family is a photobooth picture of me recently taken on the salvaged, original photobooth of Palace, a photobooth that now exists as a Save Tillie fundraiser), or hiding under the seat of the haunted house for the entire ride as zombie-like bodies with purple light cast behind them chased us down the track our rickety cart was balanced upon. But, after writing that, maybe progress is experience? Maybe seeing new things, in whatever form that takes on (things to buy, things to do, things to hear etc.) is what gentrification and our understanding of progress is all about?

Changing through experiences and experiencing through change...and often these changes revolve around an infusion of money to pay for them which is why gentrification is a seeming necessary evil. I do hope areas on the edge of gentrification find a way to balance the differing histories of a place...not to displace or Disney-fy but to co-exist in different cultures, a thing that really was the basis for beginning this country (providing a peaceful co-existence for differing ways of life, differing cultures...but, come to think of it, also ending up displacing a native population in order to do so, harumph!). Will the wants of the economic ruling class always trump the wants of others? Of course not! Those of us involved in independent media, places like The Showroom, purposely make it our mission to not let that happen! But, as we decide the future of our country, maybe those of us who are looking out for the interest of others and the preservation of a diverse country should take on a more active role in making sure to avoid a countrywide gentrification....



Donna K. is a recent transplant to the Midwest where she can be found exploring culture at large through film programming, writing and her general interest in the world- both on and offline.