Friday, August 28, 2009

Walking on Cookman

Just back from a lovely walk on Cookman Avenue with my family, chatting with the gallery owners and other entrepreneurs down there. It was a great evening, with dinner and dessert and running into friends, visiting some of the more creative shops.

Still, I couldn't help but notice, for the umpteenth time, the Asbury Park Chamber of Commerce slogan "Bought In!" pasted with bumperstickers on the glass storefronts. A vague feeling of nausea hits me every time I see this slogan. I'm a longtime homeowner here--"Bought In!" long before it became a catchphrase. But even so the slogan makes me squirm.

What it seems to say is that our community is not a caring one, but is actually a community of delighted speculators for whom return on investment will be the bottom line. The return is virtually guaranteed, otherwise we wouldn't be so gleeful as to put an exclamation point on it. The message says: we're not putting down roots, we're in this for the money. And Asbury Park is a sure bet. ("!")

Now, the Chamber of Commerce exists, of course, to cultivate the climate for growing wealth opportunities. I certainly don't mean to criticize that. And neither can I lay claim to any great business savvy.

But even so, it seems to this lowly musician that if our slogans equate money with our level of commitment to our community, then what we will reap will be more of the same--the same culture of selfish greed that brought this town to its knees during its most difficult decades and has never completely subsided.

A commitment to a community is not a commitment to make money, or a commitment to spend money. It's a commitment to people, a commitment to be active for the betterment of all the people. For some, a commitment to community doesn't even involve personal gain. Are those folks less "Bought In!" for never having spent a penny and expecting no dime in return?

I can understand the impulse to make investment in Asbury Park attractive. But it seems that at the same time we've cheapened the appeal of the city. Reduced it to the level of pork bellies and copper--a commodity.

In the end, of course, words are just words. The city's social and economic climate will be shaped more by people and actions than slogans. But still, "Bought In!" rankles.

We're not a commodity. We’re a lovely little Shore city with lots of good people living here. We're a community.


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