After decades of disinvestment and decline, American cities have become desirable places to work and live, especially for young adults in their 20s and 30s. Bloggers, journalists, and authors have documented this trend in cities, both large and small.
Investment and development have followed this population movement into cities and anticipated its continuance. This has raised the concern and sometimes ire of activists, cultural critics, and longtime residents. Once a term relegated to academic discussion, gentrification has entered the vernacular. Rarely does a week pass when I do not read or hear a story detailing the gentrification of a neighborhood or an entire city.
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.
During the last several decades, Jersey City has redefined itself from a floundering industrial hub to a center for white-collar office work. At the same time, an aspiring arts community has seen its fortunes rise and fall and rise again, and urban-minded individuals and families view Jersey City as a place to move to, not to move from. This pattern augurs well for the future of Jersey City.
Large commercial structures and massive apartment buildings dot the Hudson River waterfront and its adjacent neighborhoods, and similar projects are now slated for areas throughout the city. From the corner near my home, I can see the fifty-three-story tower being erected at Journal Square. Is the building boom and population influx ultimately good for the city? Depends whom you ask.
Opinions and hyperbole aside, a growing city is a dynamic, vibrant city. Large and small cities with shrinking resources, populations, and tax bases unfortunately are all too common throughout the the United States. Several such cities, for example, Camden and Trenton, can be found in New Jersey.
When looking at the Hudson River boardwalk or the soon-to-be tallest building in the Garden State, a different question should be posed: are these intriguing, daresay inspiring spaces? Additionally, as the city develops, is the government keeping pace with exciting public and civic spaces? Jersey City appears to be failing on both counts. Sadly enough, this is anything but a shock.