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InstaBlog: Houston on the Hudson™

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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.

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InstaBlog: Harismus

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Walking through Harismus, a residential neighborhood in Jersey City's historic downtown, very near the main shopping streets.

InstaBlog: Newark Avenue

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A walk down Newark Avenue, the heart of urban Jersey City's historic downtown.

InstaBlog: Grove Street

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Continuing north in Jersey City, I found myself at the surface of PATH's Grove Street station. Here, the intersection of Newark Avenue & Christopher Columbus Drive makes a small, triangular space, which has been converted to a public square. A farmers market—the Downtown Jersey City Farmers Market—was just closing up shop, and people were everywhere, especially for a cold winter's day.

InstaBlog Collection: Jersey City

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Exchange Place

Over the past few decades, Jersey City has exploded, sprouting towers far into the air which, especially from a distance, rival those of lower Manhattan. Once you are on the ground, though, it becomes clear that things are quite a bit uglier.

InstaBlog: Snowy Binghamton, NY

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!

Something different: this past Friday, I was returning from a family member's funeral in upstate New York when I got stuck in the midst of the major storm hitting the East Coast. In the Catskills, that meant snow, and when I say stuck, I mean it literally. I was trapped on I-81 miles behind an accident that shut the entire road for over 2 1/2 hours before having to back off the highway. Fun times (see the last image for that)! After a white-knuckle drive on snow-covered back roads, I got back to the city of Binghamton, New York to spend the night.

InstaBlog: Jersey City's Victorian Masterpiece

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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.

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.

InstaBlog: Exchange Place, 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!

Over the past few decades, Jersey City has exploded, sprouting towers far into the air which, especially from a distance, rival those of lower Manhattan. Once you are on the ground, though, it becomes clear that things are quite a bit uglier.

InstaBlog: Avenue U Odds & Ends

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!

There are just some odds and ends left to finish out my Avenue U walk. My original plan had been to continue all to Marine Park (the actual park, that is, not simply the neighborhood). But with daylight quickly fading (damn axial tilt) and my energy running low, I cut my trip short just shy of my destination. And yet, it seemed appropriate, as the walking neighborhood had already started to fade out, replaced by an auto-centric one.

Leaving Sheepshead Bay's Chinatown, the streets continued to be very active: full of shops, people, and buildings of different ages. You can feel the cultural mix: a Russian shipping store advertises in Spanish near a Banco Popular, all near a plethora of other local stores. The differing building ages, from late 19th Century storefront homes through 1950s & 60s faux tower-in-the-park apartments (with appropriately street-deadening ground levels), create an interesting and varied walk. A newly reopened cobbler’s caught my eye with its classic sign: it had not been redone at all, making the shop feel like it had been there forever. Side-streets were equally of mixed architecture, generally composed of row houses and tightly packed suburban homes, mainly from the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s.

The further I got from the Brighton Line & Q train, however, the more the neighborhood streetscape began to fade out, replaced by an auto-centric landscape. Stores became further and farther in-between. Pedestrians became fewer and fewer, making the sidewalks seem huge. Parking lots—something blissfully absent elsewhere on the avenue—became common. Abandoned stores also became more numerous, although never dominating the environment, and included a particularly striking old video rental business. It was clear the further I got from the subway, the more auto-focused the environment became.

This all culminated at Gerritsen Avenue, a car-centric road with little positive to say about it. Deciding to head home, I found myself waiting over 20 minutes for a B31 bus, an acceptable wait for transit in such a dense area—no wonder cars are the norm. Interestingly, the population of Avenue U itself seems to use buses extensively. Every ten or so minutes a bus full of people trundle up or down the street, palpably connecting the neighborhood. Here, however, I felt as if I might have been in a suburban county.

It may have been an ignoble end to my Avenue U walk, but all in all it was still a great look at another rarely visited part of urban Brooklyn.

Based on an Instagram post.
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