InstaBlog: Houston on the Hudson™

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

While there is a lot to love in Jersey City, its relatively new, booming waterfront is truly "Houston on the Hudson"™...

From New York, you can't miss the new downtown’s booming skyline. Towers, which have seemingly appeared overnight, rival those of Lower Manhattan. Better still, these new developments are heavily transit-oriented, based around PATH and Hudson-Bergen Light Rail. Finally, have we learned how to build an urban city from scratch?

Sadly, the answer is no—no way, no how, and it’s not even close. The various waterfront neighborhoods of Jersey City may be dense and tall, but they’re also ultimately car-oriented. Giant, six-lane roads prevail, encouraging drivers to treat them like the expressways they essentially are. Buildings are set back from the streets by either parking lots or useless green areas, emphasizing the vast distances and making walking feel incredibly unpleasant. Crossing the street feels like an expedition. There may be sidewalks, but there is no street life—no stores, no frontages, just blank walls, garages, and parking lots. Almost all of the “neighborhood’s” retail is inside the Newport Centre Mall—a traditional, suburban mall surrounded by endless parking. It is a truly unpleasant place, and that’s reflected by how few people are on the street. Who would want to walk here, and where would you walk to?

In the not-so-distant past, all this land was rail yards, where the various railroads from the West and South met the Hudson for people and cargo to transfer to ferries and barges. Today, with trucks, tunnels, and the like, that world is long lost—and the waterfront got a second chance at life. But instead of organic development, or even truly mixed construction, this is a neighborhood solely built by the massive capital of monolithic developers. The result is a near-dystopia of technically mixed-use, but fundamentally single-owner developments, from LeFrak's Newport to Forest City’s Hudson Exchange to Mack-Cali's Harborside—each almost their own, suburban world.

It is no way to develop a truly urban city, and demonstrates two equally important things about urbanity. One, density does not necessarily equal urbanity. And two, a diverse economic system is generally a prerequisite for urbanism to truly thrive and come alive.

Based on an Instagram post.
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