InstaBlog: Jersey City's Victorian Masterpiece

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!

All of the sudden, as I continued to walk inland in Jersey City, the neighborhood changed, almost as if with an audible clunk. The broad highways, glass towers, and parking lots of the 20th Century had suddenly disappeared, and, as if by magic, a 19th Century, truly urban city took their place. The contrast of this— part of Jersey City’s traditional downtown— and its modern counterpart could not have been starker.

It all began as I passed City Hall, a gorgeous Renaissance Revival/Victorian building which sits on a nicely landscaped square. The streets surrounding the square are lined with small, independent shops, which keep the area lively and active, even on a cold, late-weekday afternoon such as this. Although the economy is clearly shifting, modern “experience economy” restaurants sit next to low-rent butchers’ shops and the like, the old buildings continuing to support different rents and different uses.

Almost all of the streets running into or out of the square are narrow, human-scaled, and inviting. Three story townhouses peppered by the occasional garden create a sense of deep intimacy—soft spots where the public and private worlds meet. Sidewalks, while cracked and old, are canopied by gorgeous trees, creating comfortable, gorgeous vistas. Moving cars are few and far between.

Continuing, I found myself at Van Vorst Park—a traditional, Victorian square—and its surrounding, eponymous neighborhood. It’s hard to overstate just how beautiful the architecture here is. Individual townhouses sit next to ones built as ornate sets. Rowhouses are mixed with the occasional tenement-style building, with spaces for retail, creating a great mix. The span of architectural ages is wide: while most buildings are clearly from the end of the 19th Century, many are noticeably older, giving the streets an amazing texture.

Simply put, this is a gorgeous (and gorgeously preserved) 19th Century residential neighborhood, one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. It demonstrates the amazing power of small-scale, street-focused urbanism to create places people want to be in, neighborhoods that drive you to walk, and that in turn, drive human activity. Most New Yorkers only know the Jersey City of towers; this part is a hidden gem.

Based on an Instagram post.
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