“We are experiencing the best and the worst of times”… are just a few of the words interviewee Kaleem Shabazz used to describe the changes Atlantic City and County have experienced over the past year. Known to many of us in the surrounding area, we are aware of the decline of financial stability residents are experiencing. With many foreclosures of houses and casinos comes the loss of employment and the downward cycle of becoming a “ghetto”. Atlantic City and County are feeling the impact of these “worst of times” in their neighborhoods, education systems, and public safety. However, through my interview with Councilman Shabazz I was made aware of the unending optimism he feels is in the future for Atlantic County.
Kaleem Shabazz wears many hats in the Atlantic County area and it is through his different positions that he has come to know and understand the challenges and changes happening. Councilman Shabazz is an elected official, he is on the planning and development committee, an adjunct professor at Stockton University, president of the NAACP and an Atlantic City resident. He is able to speak first-hand with other residents about the changes through his attendance at church, community and tenant meetings, and while riding public transportation. Through all of his positions in the community he is able to stay positive that the “best of times” are coming for Atlantic City and we will soon see it thriving in the way it once did.
During my conversation with Councilman Shabazz, he remarked countless times on the positive impact he feels Stockton will have on the community. With a university campus entering the city we will see the community grow. There will be an increase in employment and most importantly a positive example will be set for the community of the outcome of obtaining a higher education. Many things follow a university as it moves into a city; the restaurants and food vendors that cater the population, higher paying jobs, increase in nightlife and public safety, stores, etc. It marks the beginnings of gentrifying the community and spurring further development. With these changes will come the overall need and want to better the surrounding community. One comment Councilman Shabazz made about making simple changes to the environment, such as putting in new street light bulbs, truly resonated with me. It is this simple change that has a long term impact on public safety and resident’s behavior and interaction. More light and visibility, less opportunity for crime to be committed. We discussed the remodeling of a major park that was once known for the drug use and drug deals made. The closure, increased security, and renovation being done to the park is what is referred to as the privatization of a public space. In an article reading, this procedure of privatization involved sealing off public space, redesigning it and opening it with increased security in order to reduce the number of “undesirables” (Low 2006). However it is said that privatization of public space leads to creating an environment that is no longer free and public, Councilman Shabazz and I feel the opposite is to occur with the renovation of the park. These changes will instead lead to a space were all residents will be able to come together and be provided a space to relax, learn, and recreate. All of these changes will begin to create a domino effect in spurring future development, reviving Atlantic City.
Councilman Shabazz is optimistic and positive about the future of Atlantic City and County. He sees hope in the community to succeed and grow with employment opportunities, financial stability and increase in overall public appearance and safety of the environment. He stressed the importance of voicing one’s opinion because it all starts with local government and with every step backward we must take two steps forward.