Having been born and raised in New Jersey, I often take time to read through the Asbury Park Press feed, to have a look at what is goiong on in my homestate in the US. And if you’re reading the Asbury Park Press, you’ll surely run into stories about the beaches of New Jersey, the subject of many a pop-culture reference, the “Jersey Shore”.
Among the things that fascinates me about the Jersey Shore in relation to the rest of the world, the issue of paying to use beaches – why should we and why shouldn’t we?
In some countries highways do not have tolls, they are paid for solely by your tax money, and that is how it is. In many more countries, beaches are smiliar… kept clean and surpervised with the help of your tax dollars. Just as the street lights outside, the garbage collectors, the street sweepers, it is all publicly funded and accessible.
Yet the Jersey shore, being both a very free market American phenomenon, and also having strong roots in very extremist christian religious values (many beaches were founded by religious communities who wanted to create perfect little oasis communities following their interpretation of a book or a god), you either get communities that value free beaches and all the benefits they provide. Or you get those who believe strongly in the tradition of paying for using the beach, seeing beaches as an extra cost, a special circumstance, not to be compared with roads or garbage collection or other municipal services. They also see beach fee’s as a way to raise money for cities and towns that are only able to make real profits a few months out of the year.
And so it goes that as you drive (and of course you have to drive in that culture) the Jersey coast, you will encounter all of this. Besides the free beaches, the cheap pay beaches and slightly more costly beaches. On all sides there are town leaders and citizens both complaining and praising.
Stepping back from that region of the world, you consider the other beaches of the US and the world. I’ve seen a decent number of places, well off and poor, and in either case you rarely hear talk of a beach as being somehow seperate from other public resources. Sure there could be private beaches belonging to hotels or clubs, I’ve seen some examples of that. But otherwise it is a very interesting and perhaps concerning tradition in that part of the US – where people are raised to see a beach not as a public place, but as something more private or simply an extra that one must pay for. While politicians and citizens look at access to the beach as something they can control and profit directly from.
And that is just one piece of the tattered and beloved Jersey shore puzzle. I think I’ll go give it a visit next week. My flight leaves in a few hours.