A Quiet Moment (in New York?)

After a late winter snowstorm a week or so ago, I walked along Central Park and paused to admire the landscape art of Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. For a moment, the world seemed quiet and calm. I felt a closeness to nature and forgot the everyday thoughts and worries haunting my mind. Those two gentleman designed the park to have just that effect. Continue reading

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Where Have All the Nice Places Gone?

Several posts ago, I discussed the dearth of decent, new public spaces in Jersey City. This problem with new development and construction exists well beyond Jersey City (Alex Marshall analyzes this distressful pattern in a recent article in Governing magazine). My past discussion centered upon public spaces: parks, libraries, and government buildings. The architecture and aura of private spaces fail to stand as alternative sources of hope.

In October, my wife and I enjoyed our second annual autumn trip to the Jersey Shore. Yes, most folks prefer the beach in summer. We do not like the heat, the sun, or the crowds. This preference is just one of many reasons that might explain our pairing. While staying at our favorite bed and breakfast in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, we patronized Nagle’s Apothecary Cafe.

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(Courtesy of Bridge and Tunnel Club)

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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.

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(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.

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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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Jersey City: Seeking Great Public Spaces

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.

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Jersey City, New Jersey (Courtesy of Wikipedia).

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.

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