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InstaBlog: Sometimes, you just have to admit you were wrong.

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!

Sometimes, you just have to admit you were wrong.

For the past few years, I've watched this hotel—a Holiday Inn—being built in the Garment District, at 39th & 8th Ave. The developers clearly received a height bonus for including a public plaza, one of New York City's many so-called privately-owned public places (or POPS). POPS have a sad history: not only have they more often than not been dead, lifeless afterthoughts, but developers had an incentive to make them that way—after all, they had no desire for non-tenants to hang out on their property.

Given that history and this space, which is tightly tucked between two buildings, I was fairly sure it was going to be a failure. As late as 2016, it looked like the plaza was going to be a lightless, empty disaster, a space devoid of people where no one wanted to be. I was even ready to take pictures of the legally mandated "Public Space" signs and snark about how only the best public spaces require signs to inform you of their nature.

Well, I'm glad to admit that I was totally wrong. The Garment District is a region almost devoid of public space, and this one is almost always full of a variety of people doing different things, including simply enjoying the city. There are many reasons it has worked: it is a relatively humanistic design with plenty of seating and plants, it is often bustling with hotel guests which in turn makes it more comfortable & interesting for other people to use, and it is not overly policed (in my experience, no one who isn't overtly begging is asked to leave). Whatever the exact reasons however, this space is working, and it has turned into a great addition to a neighborhood that desperately needed one.

In other words, sometimes it is a good thing to be wrong.

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InstaBlog: Jersey City's Warehouse District

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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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InstaBlog Collection: Jersey City

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Also: Warning—these are blog-style posts originally from social media. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

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: 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"™...

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: Snowy Binghamton, NY

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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.

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