Changzhou vs. Asbury Park

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Note: I am still in New Jersey, which is why there is a string of comparative travel posts.

At first glance, it might be insane to compare Changzhou with Asbury Park. One is a 4 million plus industrial metropolitan center in China, and they other really is a city in name only on the Jersey Shore. Asbury Park gets its “city” tag more as a municipal label than as an actual urban center.

There are many substantial and superficial differences. Asbury is next to an ocean, and Changzhou is along the Yangtze River. Monmouth County and most of New Jersey in general does not have air problems, and there are hardly any factories around here. People hardly treat Changzhou as a tourist destination, and beach goers flock to Asbury Park every summer.

If you look deeper, though, there is one important similarity. It’s ongoing development. In Changzhou, something new is always being built and is under construction, and Asbury Park often feels the same way. Both when I lived here and now when I return every summer to see family, there also seems to be new condos under construction. A lot of them look the same. In Changzhou, there is always those brown cookie cutter residential high rises being thrown up.

Asbury Park has been under redevelopment for years. It used to be a swanky destination for the wealthy 80 or so years ago. Then, it slowly fell into disrepair. Race riots broke out in 1970, and much of the town burned. From there, the place descended into severe urban blight that it almost never recovered from. Take the most decrepit looking parts of Newark or New York City, and put it next to the Atlantic Ocean. That’s what the area looked like. One sarcastic bit of grafitti boasted: “Asbury Park: Where the debris meets the sea.” Sometimes, debris even floated in from the sea. It it’s worst, garbage covered the sandy beach. In the 1980s and 1990s, the whole town looked like a shooting locations for a post apocalyptic science fiction movie. Crime and drugs were also rampant. Often, people drove through Asbury with locked doors.

When I moved to this place in 2004, walking out the door meant you possibly might have to contend with drug dealers and prostitutes. I once met a woman who fit both descriptions. However, people other than myself and my wife at the time were trickling in. The LGBT community, like it has in other parts of America, had moved in where renovating the town one house at a time. From there, real estate values have gone up and down, but Asbury has been on a recovery trajectory ever since.

However, when I walk through here, now, I am oddly reminded of Changzhou sometimes. For all of the speedy economic development, you can still find empty, derelict spaces in districts like Wujin — even in the prospering uptown of Xinbei in the greater Wanda area. It’s the same in Asbury. For every new condo development, there are still blighted and boarded over areas. It’s especially true the farther you get away from the beach and cross the train tracks.

You could also say there is one thing in Changzhou that always reminded me of Asbury Park. When I moved to Wujin in 2014, I saw the skeleton of a high rise. It was unfinished, and it stood on the 2 and 302 bus routes along Heping / Changwu Road. Two and a half years have passed, and no further construction has occurred. Something similar has happened in Asbury Park. There used to be something called C8. It was a project that never went beyond a steel framework. It became abandoned, and it became a fenced in tower of rust for a long time. This became a sore point for many of the old and more recently arrived locals. People cheered when it eventually became demolished. Once the rubble was cleared, another construction project took its place. And then, ironically, the real estate market in Asbury flatlined again. Construction halted, and now there is new and different failed real estate project there.

The similarities between Changzhou and Asbury Park essentially start and stop there. The Jersey town only has a limited number of spaces to develop. In theory, the construction projects will come to an end. In Changzhou and China in general, it will likely never end. Something is always getting bulldozed to make room for somethng else.

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Unfinished construction where the infamous C8 rusted ruin used to stand.

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