Thursday, September 18, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

With a little vision, Atlantic City can be rejuvenated

Blake Shelton, left, presents a guitar he signed to Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian before his concert on the beach in Atlantic City, N.J., Thursday, July 31, 2014. (AP Photo/The Press of Atlantic City, Dale Gerhard) MANDATORY CREDIT
Blake Shelton, left, presents a guitar he signed to Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian before his concert on the beach in Atlantic City, N.J., Thursday, July 31, 2014. (AP Photo/The Press of Atlantic City, Dale Gerhard) MANDATORY CREDIT AP

By Reese Palley

Just as I was about to give up on Atlantic City, I began to think about former Philadelphia Mayor Richardson Dilworth and city planner Edmund Bacon.

In 1956, when Dilworth took office, the extent of city planning in most places was simply to knock down the old and build something new.

Bacon was different. He and others wanted to salvage the slum known as Society Hill by rebuilding what was there and building new homes reminiscent of the neighborhood's former elegance.

To get the job done, a triumvirate was formed. Dilworth provided the political muscle, Bacon the creativity, and realtor and banker Albert M. Greenfield the financial power. Dilworth put his money where his mouth was and actually built his own residence in what was essentially a slum. He was the spark that fueled the work of Bacon and Greenfield. Today, Society Hill is one of the most elegant and expensive areas of Philadelphia.

These men gambled that a slum contiguous to a respectable area need not pull that area down. They bet that the difference in land cost, assisted by the help of intelligent zoning, would give vibrant new life to a residential disaster. They were proved correct.

Today, we have a similar pattern in Atlantic City. The Chelsea area, part slum but retaining some memory of the old city's elegance, is predominantly empty. But it's contiguous to Ventnor City, a built-up area of high land values. Could a combination of serious new planning for Chelsea, accompanied by tax-abatement programs for new housing, attract new residents to Chelsea - the type of people who can no longer afford the price of real estate in Ventnor, Margate, and Longport? These stable and prosperous communities serve the needs and the passions of those who love the Shore and want to be near the sea.

In Mayor Don Guardian, Atlantic City already has its Dilworth. A first-class city planner with the vision of an Edmund Bacon can surely be found. Now all we need is a 21st-century Greenfield, someone with an eye for underused land and the potential for the enormous profit that can flow from reclaiming residential land near the sea.

 


Reese Palley is a writer and former art dealer who lives in Philadelphia. reesepalley@aol.com

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