Boardwalk Stories: Walking Tour App Invites Users to Experience Sandy at the Jersey Shore
Tourists who step foot on the boardwalk at Seaside Heights this summer have an innovative tool at their hands to experience the Jersey Shore in a whole new way.
The Boardwalk Stories From Sandy audio walking tour app brings to life the stories of Hurricane Sandy survivors and challenges listeners to rethink coastal living as they pass sights impacted by the storm. It features 12 stops along the boardwalk, including a newly completed stretch destroyed twice, first during Sandy and again in the fire a year later.
“Seaside Heights is a great place to explore these issues because of the iconic imagery of the rollercoaster,” said Benjamen Walker, a New York City-based radio producer who developed Boardwalk Stories with Francesca Panetta and Ravenna Koenig. “We tried to do it in a way that draws in people interested in Sandy and others who don’t understand the science or who might not understand why people would want to rebuild. Everyone can learn something.”
Boardwalk Stories was funded by the New Jersey Recovery Fund, a joint effort between local and national foundations, corporations and individuals created in Sandy’s wake to support long-term solutions that promote economic vitality, healthy ecosystems, engaged communities, government transparency and a fair distribution of recovery resources.
The tour begins at the dunes adjacent to Lafayette Avenue in Seaside Park, continues onto the boardwalk through Seaside Heights past the Beachcomber Bar and Grill, Kohr’s Frozen Custard and Casino Pier, and up to the hard-hit Ortley Beach community.
Along the way, narrators including Tim Dillingham, executive director of American Littoral Society, Maria Maruca, an Ortley Beach Councilwoman, Patty Hershey, owner of the Shake Shoppe Arcade, and Thomas Boyd, Seaside Heights Police Chief point out landmarks as they share their memories of the boardwalk, Sandy experiences and thoughts on rebuilding. The app provides rich layers of sound from the spots — crashing waves, squawking seagulls, rowdy children, the songs played at amusement park rides, and the emergency calls that ordered residents to evacuate before Sandy made landfall.
It uses GPS to track users as they walk at their own speed. When they reach a stop, a bell rings and a new story begins. Listeners can backtrack to pick up the story where they left off, or skip ahead to the next.
And anyone can use the app from the comfort of their home in the app’s “armchair mode.”
“Using GPS to do a walking tour that interacts with the place is what’s innovative about Boardwalk Stories,” Walker said. “Rethinking place is what’s at the heart of this — exploring questions like, 'What are we going to do with space in the context of sea-level rise and climate change?'”
Chris Sturm, Senior Director of State Policy at New Jersey Future, offers her take while talking in front of Beachcomber Bar, which has a rebuilt rooftop balcony. She argues some of the recovery funding should be used on imaginative, resilient solutions, such as elevated buildings and walkways much like New York City's The High Line that could incorporate carnival-like ways, like slides and chair lefts, to get to the different levels.
"Even though the immediate rebuilding process is underway," Sturm said, "the fact that these coastal areas are highly vulnerable to future storms is not going to change if sea-level rise is going to happen. We have to keep having these conversations on how to enjoy the Shore in a way that uses taxpayer dollars prudently."
Walker and his team wrapped production of Boardwalk Stories just days before the Sept. 12, 2013 fire — sparked in wiring damaged by Hurricane Sandy — consumed several blocks of the boardwalk in Seaside Park, including four of the stops on the tour.
“That was kind of incredible,” Walker said. “We had to put the project on hold as we did some re-recording and waited to see what would happen.”
Justin Auciello, the journalist behind Jersey Shore Hurricane News, shares with listeners what it was like to be one of the first people on the scene on the day of the fire.
“I watched this fire grow from simply smoke to, literally within minutes, fireballs shooting out of Kohr’s ice cream shop — literal fireballs. And I could feel the heat,” Auciello recalls in the app.
Now that the boardwalk has reopened, the South Seaside Park native is working with Walker to market the free Boardwalk Stories app. He plans to organize meet-ups where residents and vacationers alike can walk the tour and delve deeper into the issues with some of Boardwalk Stories' narrators.
“The walking tour helps people understand that the recovery is a long-term effort. Sandy was a major disaster. Everything may look okay on the face of it but it’s really not,” Auciello said. “The app opens up that layer — it brings you into the deeper issues and helps you understand there are a lot of challenges.”
Boardwalk Stories, Walker said, aims to offer users a multi-perspective, almost transcendent experience — the ability to observe the boardwalk in the present moment while listening to stories of the past and thinking about the future.
Sturm predicts it will take investment from the private sector to see change on the coast, but she suggested municipalities can spur ideas and engage the community through a design competition similar to that of Rebuild By Design.
"The places like Seaside Heights and Seaside Park would be the strongest to marry commercial interest with resiliency," she said. "Hopefully we will see some fresh ideas on how to do that."
The Boardwalk Stories from Sandy smartphone app is available as a free download in the Apple App store (see right box for more ways to download it). Visitors should download it — and remember to bring earphones — before arriving at the boardwalk.
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