InstaBlog: Islands of Urbanity in Jersey City

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!

Walking down Montgomery Street away from the waterfront and deeper into Jersey City reveals a strange environment: islands of urbanity floating in a sea of roads and parking lots.

In this part of the city, the buildings vary tremendously in age. A block of late 19th Century buildings is surrounded on all sides by modern luxury apartment towers, and behind lies 60s, 70s, and 80s Modernist buildings, each surrounded by a parking lot and empty, fenced off greenery. Normally, varied building ages are something to be celebrated, but here, it feels almost as if a bomb—the bomb of urban renewal—has gone off, carving out giant empty spaces and giant roads while leaving behind fragments of an old neighborhood.

Which is not to say that there haven’t been valiant attempts to rebuild urbanity here, however. Bus stops and bike lanes are clearly demarcated on the pavement, which is very welcome, even if the bike lanes themselves aren't protected. The old buildings have their wonderful varied fronts, and the towers built in the last 15 years or so all have retail on their ground floors, even if it is limited and oversized.

It isn't enough, however, to counteract the giant vistas across empty parking lots and the blank faces of Modernist buildings. Useless open spaces are far worse than no open space; they make everything feel cold and distant. There are people on the street, but fewer than the density of the neighborhood would suggest: this isn’t an overly pleasant place to be. Modernist urbanism was truly awful for those on the ground: it may have looked spectacular viewed from above, but it was fundamentally designed for cars, and as a walker, it shows. The small touches help improve the streetscape, but not quite by enough. There is the spark of real urbanity here; it just needs more physical support to bring it out.

Based on an Instagram post.
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