InstaBlog: Jersey City's Warehouse District

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!

I ended my walk through downtown Jersey City in its waterfront warehouse district, which forms a literal and metaphorical bridge between old and new Jersey City. Once, these warehouses served the massive railroads that moved people and goods via ferry to and from New York and the rest of the country. Today, they are the only part of that old world that still exists, sitting between the historic downtown and its newly-built "Houston on the Hudson" counterpart.

Like so many aging urban warehouse districts, Jersey City is trying hard to convert these buildings into galleries and artists’ studios. An artists’ district itself is not a terrible plan, although far from an original one. But it seems that the city’s plan, rather than to try and attract actual artist class, is to jump to the chic end-product; to skip the gradual money of unslumming and speed right to the cataclysmic money of redevelopment, to use Jane Jacob's terms. It is a deeply limited approach. Warehouse neighborhoods already lack texture and life, and skipping to the homogenization of wealth—no matter how cultured that wealth might be—isn't necessarily a great path for developing a truly urban environment, even if you ignore questions of equity.

However, perhaps I am only this cynical because the neighborhood is so clearly in pieces. Many blocks feel cold and empty, with decaying streets and blank walls, only to be punctuated with the occasional window into a high-class, high-cost world, highlighting the artificiality and consumerist nature of the development. It’s certainly hard to consider this entirely a bad thing—there is no one to displace from decaying warehouses—but it seems to preclude the creation of fine-grained, functional urbanism. You can't have an "instant city" where you just need to add people—cities are far more complicated than that.

One thing that is disturbing is the prevalence of raised sidewalks: almost all the redeveloped blocks have sidewalks that are raised a good 5-10 feet off the ground. I don't know why this was done, but it nearly precludes an active street life. Entrances are far and few between, require steps or ramps, and crossing streets becomes a chore. The raised walks are quaint perches once you are on them, but they seem to reserve the street for cars and trucks—ironic considering that the area's streets have almost no traffic.

To me, this is sad. This neighborhood could have been something akin to Portland, OR's Pearl District—a vibrant, truly urban neighborhood that stays that way even as prices rise. I’m not sure the city is building the bones that will lead to a sustainable, desirable neighborhood. But only time will tell!

Based on an Instagram post.
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