By Michelle Dorantes
In 1989, Time Magazine issued a report about the growing issues the city had that year. In “1989 the casinos have created 41,000 new jobs — more than the city’s population — but the welfare rolls are up, and the number of overnight guests at the Rescue Mission has swollen from an average of 25 in 1976 to 220 today” (Painton, 1989). There are 18,103 slot machines, but no car washes, no movie theaters and only one supermarket. People should understand that at the time of the casino boom and emerging construction, the city itself was not ready for the destruction of local life. It completely shut out the local citizens that actually lived there. Their input in the transformations to their city did not matter because money talks. The casinos flushed out local life and 20 years later, the area has not returned to its original state.
By viewing the documentary “Our Side the other Atlantic City,” our class really got to see Atlantic City locals express their views and experiences. One of the women featured in the film talks about the importance of locals working at the casinos and how at one period of time, the opportunities were endless. She discusses how if she had lost her job at one casino, it really would not have mattered because she could go look for another job at a different one. The casinos put so much effort into their business, so everything seemed spotless. This industry provided around 8,000 people with jobs. Celebrities would come from all over the world to see Atlantic City and from the outside, everything seemed great, until it wasn’t.
During our visit to the African American Heritage Museum of Southern NJ, our tour guide explained how companies tried to extinguish liquor stores around the North Side to eliminate competing business during the casino boom. In “Our Side: the other Atlantic City,” Sparkle Prevard explains how Revel built a $2.4 billion casino that only stayed open for two years. During that time, the casino took over and destroyed homes for parking lots. The casinos erased the history in Atlantic City. On Rhode Island Avenue, where neighborhoods would gather, places like Penny Village were torn down and soon all the beauty that made up Atlantic City would just end up being memories for the locals that lived there.
The gentrification such as that of Atlantic City can be explored throughout the United States as well. In Chicago, with new housing and businesses, primarily white, middle class citizens tend to move into urban areas. This increases housing prices and minimizes the culture and diversity Chicago is known for, and the same can be said about Atlantic City. When the casinos went up, it diminished the history that African Americans created in the city by getting rid of local businesses and community housing for the creation of new buildings with no culture at all. When those businesses died out, they left locals in Atlantic City with no jobs, less tourism that brought in less revenue, and empty buildings built on top of distance memories.
At times, yes – gentrification can have a positive impact. At one point, it did provide locals with job opportunities and tourism, but the negatives outweigh the positives in this situation and Atlantic City residents end up paying the price. The culture in Atlantic City is historical, and casinos shut out the African Americans who built the city. We must keep their stories alive and with the documentary “Our Side the other Atlantic City,” I think we are doing just that. Atlantic City is more than just casinos, it is a place where generations of people have lived and their stories need to be heard.
PAINTON, P., Pomper, S., & Raffety, S. (1989). COVER STORY Atlantic City, New Jersey Boardwalk of Broken Dreams the Hometown of the Con Job may now be the Victim of One. Time, 134(13), 64.
Sean, A. (2016). Gentrification and Chicago. Illinois Geographer, 58(1), 68-79.