In thinking about the decline of American cities after WWII (remember St. Louis and Pruitt Igoe?), what reason (or reasons) does Simon cite as the culprit in the decline of Atlantic City?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Simon suggests that part of the reason why Atlantic City faltered was that it fell victim to the same challenges that urban centers experienced in the late 1960s and 1970s.  Simon suggests that there was a lack of forward vision towards sustaining urban centers such as Atlantic City.  The result is that something that was once vibrant and teeming with life experiences decay, a gutted shell of what it once was.

The Pruitt- Igoe reference is an appropriate one.  Like the vision of "Slum Surgery in St. Louis," Atlantic City represented a marvel of modern social consciousness.  Simon suggests that part of the reason for Atlantic City's surge in success and popularity was because it represented a symbol of wealth and prestige.  Simon argues that Atlantic City enjoyed success because people saw it as representative of their success:  

A trip to Atlantic City was a public performance of personal success... People came to the Boardwalk to show off their hard-won middle-class status by acting like classy men and women. They came to celebrate the American dream of inclusion and social mobility.  

Even though segregation impacted life in Atlantic City, one of the reasons it was so successful was because it embodied exalted status.  It was reflective of a time in American urban consciousness where the city was the hub of all life and where individuals recognized success and the benefits of cultural capital.

By the late 1960s, this landscape was changing.  Simon notes that Atlantic City suffered from this change.  Racial integration took a hold in these urban centers.  Similar to many other examples in the American urban lexicon, such as Pruitt- Igoe, Atlantic City suffered from "White Flight."  Simon suggests that both African- Americans and White Americans made the move to the suburbs. Simon asserts the idea that the suburbs became the representation of wealth and status.  The suburbs became quickly identified with wealth and privilege, attracting people who used to see Atlantic City with such a classification.  This was one distinct reason that Simon offers  behind Atlantic City's decline.

At the same time, like other urban centers, Simon suggests that there was a lack of forward thinking in this realm.  Simon makes the argument that urban planners in Atlantic City were not able to sustain a sense of development and growth that would benefit the entire community:

In the 25 years since Resorts [International] opened, the city has lost a third of its population and housing stock,...Now there are more casino employees than city residents, and most of these people live in the suburbs...The Boardwalk is no longer a magical place. Most Atlantic City visitors don’t really care about the ocean or the Boardwalk, not when there are jackpots to be won and traffic to beat...While Atlantic City’s casinos have provided 43,924 jobs and $6 billion in investment, the gaming industry has not saved Atlantic City...In many ways, the city as a place to live is now worse than ever.

Simon argues that the "devil's bargain" of opening Atlantic City to so much in way of gaming and little else in way of urban renewal and development, its decline was inevitable.  He asserts this with the idea that crime in Atlantic City had risen to near 80% since the opening of the casinos.  The development of casinos and acquiescing to the money brought in by gaming did little to enhance the urban quality of life in Atlantic City. The imagination that Atlantic City once captured in terms of being the center of urban life, capturing individual dreams, was lacking in the planning of post- flight Atlantic City.  This becomes another reason that Simon sees in its decline.