Jersey City and America: Will We Ever Value Culture?

This past Sunday, I drove around Jersey City with the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy to survey homes, businesses, and assorted properties redeveloped in an aesthetically- and historically-minded fashion over the past year. Jersey City’s bounty of interesting, beautiful buildings astounded me. These treasures exist well beyond the sanctioned historic districts and the increasing affluent downtown.

Well south of Journal Square, in a notorious, crime-ridden pocket of the city, I walked along a three-block street of lovely, red-brick row homes with ornate cornices and tall front stoops. While some houses cried for a loving hand to restore them to their past glory, other homes were well-maintained with small front gardens and freshly painted iron gates. If Jersey City continues to be a residential choice, all the homes will receive much-deserved attention and care.

Jersey City’s neighborhoods hold former fraternal lodges, mothballed warehouses, hulking industrial structures, and the past homes of prominent, yet oft-forgotten physicians, businessmen, attorneys, and politicians. These spaces carry the spirit and essence of history. Unfortunately, walking through Jersey City, one would barely know it.

Parodi Cigar Company factory, Jersey City, New Jersey (Photograph by author). Another forgotten or underutilized treasure in the city.

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Delightfully Frozen in the Past: Ocean Grove, New Jersey

During our recent vacation—too short, as always—my wife and I stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, right next door to the rowdy and famous Asbury Park. While Asbury Park tempts one with rock ‘n’ roll music, cheap drinks, and the hope of fast women, Ocean Grove offers quiet nights, family-friendly restaurants, and a proper (read: Methodist) atmosphere.

After disembarking from the train, we walked through downtown Asbury Park to the footbridge traversing Wesley Lake, the man-made body of water separating Asbury Park from Ocean Grove. The difference between the two localities could not be more visible and palpable.

A vintage postcard of the Ocean Grove side of Wesley Lake. The bridge in the background connects the village with Asbury Park. Stately, Victorian homes rest on the Ocean Grove side of the water. Automobiles besmirch the landscape of Asbury Park (Courtesy of Digital Commonwealth).

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Thoughts on Asbury Park: a Few Days at the Jersey Shore

Wanting to avoid the expense, inconvenience, and utter unpleasantness of flying, my wife and I have planned our weekend trips and vacations around train travel over the past several years. A proponent of the contemporary cult of travel (and any airline executive) would blanch at this practice. The whole wide world awaits you. Why limit yourself to your tiny corner of the globe? Fortunately, we live in the New York metropolitan region with its extensive local and regional rail networks and an enviable abundance and variety of sites and geography.

For well over a century, weary urbanites have visited the Jersey Shore for relaxation, refreshment, and entertainment. Embracing this tradition, my wife and I rode the rail to Asbury Park, New Jersey, a storied town experiencing resurgence and reinvestment.

Looking toward the Asbury Park boardwalk in the morning (Photograph by author).

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Great Public Spaces: a Few Ideas, Part II

The last several posts have addressed the pressing need for quality public spaces in the rapidly developing and transforming Jersey City. In the past decade, a group of volunteers have rescued a historic nineteenth-century cemetery from abandonment and neglect. This group hopes that the cemetery can be a splendid place for the people of Jersey City.

Sandwiched between the downtown neighborhoods and the newly reignited Journal Square, the Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery welcomes visitors wanting to pay respects to a departed ancestor or seeking a quiet place wherein to escape the commotion of city life and find a private moment for thought and reflection. Walking along the pathways bordered by ornate obelisks and faded headstones, one easily loses himself or herself in the rustic beauty of the rolling grounds and lush vegetation. The orchestra of birds tweeting, crickets chirping, and rustling leaves drown out the grating noise of automobiles racing down Newark Avenue. The occasional train whistle evokes the image of a lonely, country landscape. Suddenly, the city is far, far away.

(Courtesy of Frank DeMarco and the Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery).

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Great Public Spaces: a Few Ideas, Part I

My previous post lamented the dearth of great, eye-opening public spaces throughout Jersey City and the nearly complete absence of any attention to this need in the redevelopment and building boom of the city throughout the last thirty years. However, genuine and realistic opportunities exist to ameliorate the lack of civic mindedness and inadequate planning by the city.

Throughout the eighteenth century as the United States was physically, economically, demographically, and geographically growing, cities looked to superb public works (parks, libraries, museums, post offices, train stations, etc.) as evidence that a given city had achieved status and civility. Refreshing parks mattered. Well-stocked public libraries mattered. August court houses mattered. Beautiful, functional train stations mattered. Now … well … not so much, if at all. We build cheap, ugly things in America. Public space? What’s that?

Ironically enough, the remnants of Jersey City’s own nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century expansion are the seeds to create new great spaces for visitors and residents. The past might give birth to the future.

The Embankment, the center green strip, cuts through downtown and almost reaches the Hudson River waterfront (Courtesy of the Embankment Preservation Coalition).

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