HOME
06/21/2013 12:41 pm ET Updated Jun 24, 2013

How America Lives: Asbury Park, New Jersey, The Beach City Residents Brought Back From The Brink (VIDEO)

When I was in college, Asbury Park, New Jersey, was a place you simply did not go to after dark.

The homes were broken-down, the restaurants were seedy and many of the landmark buildings in this former vacation destination were in such a state of disrepair that even stray cats kept their distance. But, it wasn't without its charms, at least during the daytime. A quarter in a meter bought you a whole day of parking and the beaches were blissfully uncrowded. But still, you mostly wanted to leave the place before nightfall.

The Asbury Park of those days is nearly unrecognizable to the Asbury Park of today. And it started with the residents. Sensing opportunity, many became investors in the future of the city by buying up dilapidated Victorian homes and restoring them to their former glory. As blocks became more welcoming, restaurants and shops followed. Landmarks were (somewhat) restored.

Now, you would be hard-pressed to find a parking space. At least during the summer months and weekend evenings.

My feelings on the transformation are mixed. (I still live in the area.) On the one hand, it's nice to see a city come back from the brink. On the other hand, it's hard to come to terms with the -- dare I say -- gentrification. Can one really sit down to a gourmet pizza served in a vaguely Brooklyn-esque restaurant, when you know that space used to be a strip club? Or recommend a luxury hotel that, about 6 years ago, had mattresses sticking out of its windows? And how can there be multiple places to buy $12 martinis, but no good grocery store within the town?

No matter what one's thoughts are on the topic, it's incredible to hear the stories of the homeowners who really effected change in their community. In this episode of "How America Lives," you'll meet one such person, who restored a gorgeous Victorian gem. His impeccable eye will inspire. You'll also hear more about the history of the city, and why it's more than just a Bruce Springsteen reference. Watch the video above and share your thoughts.

What makes a city a community? Its residents. Here are the towns across America where you're more likely to make a new friend.

PHOTO GALLERIES
America's Friendliest Towns

You might know the city from a Bruce Springsteen song.

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
Life hacks and juicy stories to get you through the week.

CONVERSATIONS