Journal Square, Old and New

What happened to Journal Square?  Once known as a lively hub of cultural and political activity in the heart of Jersey City, NJ, Journal Square experienced what Hutchison (1992) once called the ““the almost incomprehensible…process of spatial restructuring” that effectively decentralized many central cities’ populations and economic activities to the suburbs during the second half of the twentieth century (see “Gentrification and the Transformation of Urban Space”) .  In recent years, boarded-up storefronts, sidewalks and facades in need of repair, and the constant presence of homeless and unemployed people have unfortunately become tangible reminders of the Square’s decline.  As I wrote in an earlier post, places can become discards too.

The picture above shows the old Journal Square and next to it, a graphic from the vision plan drafted for the space.  Anton Nelessen Associates and Dean Marchetto Architects created a New Urbanist redevelopment plan for Journal Square that has the potential to translate the existing space into what they call a more livable, more walkable, greener, New Urbanist place.

The ambitious plan for Journal Square includes numerous green spaces and parks, mass transit, shopping, and thousands of units of new housing.

For those interested in developments in urban planning, the charter of the Congress of the New Urbanism is available online.  Additionally, in Home From Nowhere, James Kunstler (2004) provides a scathing critique of “expedient” design and urban development that ignores New Urbanist principles.  He argues that “spiritually degrading” design is “impoverishing us socially, and degrading the aggregate set of cultural patterns we call civilization.”  “In the new urbanism,” he writes (in a very Jane Jacobs style), “the meaning of the street as the essential fabric of the public realm is restored.  The space created is understood to function as an outdoor room, and building facades are understood to be street walls.”  New Urbanist design eschews the automobile, stressing “walkable streets and easy access to shops, recreation, culture, and public beauty.”  [For those interested in the contentious debates around New Urbanism, Fainstein (2000) argues against this direction in urban planning, stressing its utopian dimensions and the unfortunate tendency to produce homogeneity and increasingly segregated neighborhoods.]

It seems to me that there must be a middle ground.  Struggles between developers, city officials, and business owners often hinge on who will benefit economically from proposed development.  My work centers on the role that the public plaza (outside of the transportation center) plays in the life of the community.  The vitality of the plaza depends upon numerous social interactions that improve urban dwellers’ lives: people take their lunch together in the plaza, as urban villagers they meet to talk, and they people-watch as a relaxing way to pass time.  I can only hope that once the development begins, stakeholders will remember that the fountain, the benches, the trees, and the walkways all provide a moment of respite in the midst of the hustle and bustle of city life.

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