For a small town, Atlantic City has an extraordinary variety of ethnicities and cultures in its people. A recent info graphic showed that 22 languages are spoken in the city police department and more than two dozen in its schools, for a total of at least 27 languages. Much of that is thanks to the casino industry, which created an abundance of entry-level jobs and saw the advantages of a workforce reflecting its global customer base.
That much cultural and ethnic variation typically is only found in large metropolises such as New York or Washington. There it helps make them appealing centers of global culture — the kind you can see, participate in and eat.
Such a wealth of peoples in a city with fewer than 40,000 residents can be the foundation of a lasting and broader appeal to visitors.
In 2014, after casino closings cost the city jobs and business, then-planning director Elizabeth Terenik led city efforts to lure young entrepreneurs to take advantage of the city’s underused commercial spaces. We encouraged that, stating, “Atlantic City is small and manageable” with “plenty of shops, history, restaurants, bars, great entertainment and a diversity of vibrant, interesting cultures.”
Letter writers and online commenters lately have urged Atlantic City to take more advantage of this cultural richness. One recently described the opportunity and suggested the city encourage ethnic hotspots along the lines of a Chinatown or Little Italy.
The general understanding of the value of the city’s demographics is spot on, but ethnic enclaves are a thing of the past — they grew as immigrant groups clustered to help get established in their new country.
Nowadays those cultures and languages are more spread around and more integrated into the general population, which is good — and makes Atlantic City’s opportunity not the cultivation of ethnic neighborhoods, but of a comfortably diverse small city setting one big table for sampling lots of cultures.
This could be encouraged by outreach efforts that help make Atlantic City’s immigrant communities aware of the many forms of private, state and federal help for small entrepreneurs setting up shops, restaurants and service businesses. The new nonprofit Chelsea Economic Development Corp. is doing something like this but to increase home ownership in the Chelsea neighborhood, with Terenik as its executive director.
Arts and civic organizations should also look to ensure that the promotion of events, entertainments and exhibits reflects the great cultural breadth of Atlantic City area people.
Variation in human civilization is fascinating, and so appealing that it’s often faked. Atlantic City has variety that’s authentic and deep. It just needs to help it blossom and get the word out.