City and Regional Planning

Atlantic City Futures

Spring 2015 Studio

In collaboration with the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia’s Community Development Studies and Education Department, this plan sets forth a vision for a more equitable, diverse, and sustainable economic future for Atlantic City that gives special consideration to the needs of low and moderate-income families.  This focus on low and moderate-income families is paramount, as Atlantic City’s future has become increasingly uncertain. The closure of four casinos in 2014 and the subsequent loss of over 8,000 jobs have had a devastating impact on the city and region.  However, even during the boom years of the casinos, a significant share of Atlantic City’s residents struggled to meet their basic needs and had little opportunity for social and economic mobility.

The casino closures were not altogether unexpected. Atlantic City has endured nearly a decade of declining casino revenues and decreasing numbers of tourists.  Recent efforts to stabilize its economy have been uncoordinated, piecemeal, and have ineffectively sought to bolster the tourist and gaming sectors alone, rather than taking a more sustainable diversified approach. Given the mixed results of the city’s previous efforts, this report proposes a more robust solution—one that puts equity front and center in the city’s economic development.

Atlantic City has been a tourist destination since the late 1800’s, thanks to its proximity to major Northeastern population centers. Its popularity has
ebbed and flowed over the last century, but the city has had a unique ability to reinvent itself, first as a wet town during prohibition and later as a destination for casinos and gaming. The Casino Control Act of 1977 gave Atlantic City the sole right of all municipalities in New Jersey to offer casino gaming, ushering in decades of tremendous growth. However, this growth was not evenly distributed, and high rates of household poverty, unemployment, and homelessness remained.  Moreover, the city’s dependency on gaming and tourism has left it vulnerable to competition as neighboring states have legalized gaming, with few incentives for  other industries to fill the void.

Our plan focuses on equity not merely as an altruistic impulse but as a strategy to ensure that Atlantic City maintains a baseline of economic stability. Following best practices, this plan defines equity as a state in which all residents, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, are able to fully participate in the creation of their economic and political futures and are socially, physically, and economically mobile.

This book begins with a more in-depth analysis of the importance of equity as an economic development strategy. We then delve further into the particularities of Atlantic City’s case, ultimately establishing a new framework that emphasizes more coordinated planning
efforts, as elaborated in three categories: (1) Diversified Economy, (2) Human Capital, and (3) the Public Realm.