A city is that other person in your life. And like with people, you either appreciate them for who they are, or you leave that person. Changes in your city affect the fabric of your day-to-day existence as well as the well being of your mind, body and soul. Around this time of year, you see all the year in review pieces and because this is an end of decade year, we get the decade in review stuff too. As I thought about the changes Jersey City underwent in the first decade of our new century, it occurred to me that the newsworthy events were as important as the barely noticeable minor changes. Some changes may seem more significant than others—but what is significant? A political incident that implies a future direction of our nation or the improvement of something you deal with everyday and changes your life? This post gained momentum as I wrote it, and I realized the scope must be as wide as possible. This post is longer than usual, and features more speculation, personal asides and opinions than is typical. Make of that what you will.
Any sort of list about the “00’s” probably has 9-11 at the top. The news media focused almost entirely on the blocks and neighborhoods surrounding Ground Zero. Nobody cares about—or truly understands—Jersey City, except we who live here. Jersey City was on the front line of the rescue effort, we were the first ones to realize a lot of people were not going to be saved, and their bodies will never be recovered. When Wall Street was evacuated, the ferries came to Exchange Place. I don’t think we suffered more than most, but our experience of the event was immediate and tactile. Those of us who were here then, when prompted, will still trade stories. I’ll never forget the anxiety, the sadness of that day and of the weeks that followed. I’ll also never forget how those feelings were shared by all my neighbors. I genuinely believe that Jersey City became a more polite, considerate city after 9-11 and much of that common decency persists.
Artie’s, gone. Okay, by the 00’s it had been renamed Kelly Ryan’s. It’s now a Steak House, which I’ve never been to but I’ve heard good things about. Way back when, used to be the Henderson House, or so I’ve been told. I hung out there often, in fact, friends would come to town and we would go there. The story they told was a little old Italian lady from the neighborhood would come in, make the “gravy” and the other Italian dishes. See, it was a regular bar, but the pub group was excellent Italian American My “piasan” Tony, who was born in Jersey City and spent every Sunday of his youth visiting his grand parents on Rail Road Avenue still talks about the pasta fazool soup—just like my grand mother made. More than once I saw him at the bar make that exclamation after the first taste, slapping the counter with delight. You could also get a great hamburger, but you substitute the French Fries with a nice portion of spaghetti marinara. Inexpensive and the bartenders, who were all really nice, always bought a round. There are very good places still in the neighborhood, but there was never another Artie’s. Had a lot of dates there. Nancy and I spent a memorable evening, right after 9-11, watching the live broadcast of the Tribute to Hero’s concert. Another time, I had a wonderful evening on a quiet night at the place, reading Hadji Murad, the Tolstoy novella, drinking Jameson and regular Coors, and Tolstoy’s remarkable prose about war in the mountains of Chechnya floated through my brain as I weaved my way home, pleasantly drunk. I forget the exact 00 year it closed, but by mid-decade it was gone. I heard rumors that someone might have been dealing coke from the kitchen and was busted. I sort of stopped going for a bit, I think once or twice the food slipped, new owners. Well, it’s an old story, these things come and go. There are other neighborhood places, but Artie’s had great pasta, it was rarely over-crowded, and had great oldies on the Juke Box. A whiskey and a beer, burger with pasta, not fries. In the 90s, it was my neighborhood sanctuary and was just real Jersey City—took the yuppie right out of ya!
At first, I thought Grove Pointe was an abomination. I’ve downgraded my official policy to monstrosity. I remember my buddy Edwin telling me they were knocking down the buildings by the Grove Station. A big deal at the time, imploding the short dingy buildings—a video store, cheap jewelry, cash-checking place, a greasy Spanish food joint. I missed the implosion. Rumors of a whole foods and a hotel coming. Towards mid-decade, the pre-bursting of the real estate bubble era—buy condos now! the Grove Pointe signs proclaimed. Then the bubble burst, a new banner was unveiled: Rentals Available. Grove Pointe sort of exemplifies the rampant gentrification in Jersey City, and it is easy to feel negative towards its impact. On the other hand, without Grove Pointe, we wouldn’t have a Rite Aide and a Starbucks. They make life more pleasant and convenient. I still get my prescriptions from a local pharmacy, but for other drug store items and such, you need a large store like that, especially if you want to buy an antiperspirant after 8:00 PM. Without Grove Pointe, we wouldn’t have the open-air Grove Street Plaza, with its Art Market and Green Market and Groove on Grove concert Series. It’s a great place to tarry—especially now that you can enjoy a chai tea latte while tarrying. Grove Pointe was supposed to spur further development but the economy seems to have put the kibosh on that kind of progress, for a while at least. Grove Pointe—mixed feelings, mixed blessings, ambiguity—that’s Jersey City isn’t it, that’s life, isn’t it!
House by House Gentrification
Talking to another J.C. old timer, about changes during this decade, he said the gentrification has gotten more rampant. Gentrification took place in the 80s and 90s, but not with the same insistent and devastating pace as the 00s, he said. I thought Grove Pointe was the prime example, but he said it isn’t just the big new buildings. Gentrification is happening at the house-by-house, family-by-family level. A big new building is contained, on the house-by-house level there is no such constraint. In the 00s, real estate values have changed the make up of neighborhoods on the block-by-block level. My friend, a home owner, since 1983, near Erie Street. In the early 00’s, a family sold a house for $500,000. The new owner, put a lot of investment into it, fixing it up and such. Sold it for a $1.5 Million. It was sold again for just under $2 Million. He said he knew of four other houses on his street—half the houses basically—with similar stories. All in this decade. Guess what, the people moving into the new houses happen to be white—the previous owners had been Puerto Rican (at least for a couple of the houses). With the economy the way it is, who knows if this trend will continue or if the houses will retain their current value, or what kinds of mortgages the new owners have.
Gentrification has plenty of positives. You get better services. Streets get safer. But there are negative aspects as well—the character of a city can be obliterated. I’m not sure what the answer it is, but the potential result of this trend is unsettling.
Any Day Parade
I’ve written about these cats a few times, they are my favorite Jersey City band. Their music is awesome. Get their CDs or downloads; make an effort to catch a gig, they’re frigging great. Since I have yet to hear every band in Jersey City, I can’t say they are the best Jersey City band (although they probably are). I cite them here as emblematic of the fact that there are dozens, maybe several dozens of bands, who call Jersey City home. From what I can tell, the musicians are pretty eclectic. ADP is country rock, other bands dip into soul or R&B, rock and roll, lots of punk and hardcore sounds, there’s even a bossa nova combo of note. Sadly, only a handful of bars present music and those that do are small, not even a stage, just a mike. The paltry club landscape is augmented by Groove on Grove and a couple of other Summer stages. The only city with more places to rehearse than to actually perform. Hopefully that will change. I may like ADP the best right now, but from my samplings of these bands—the musicianship is high, serious chops in this town and they all do a mix of clever covers and compelling originals. The music business is totally screwed up, who knows how to make a living or grow an audience these days. ADP is just an example of a truly interesting and exciting scene happening right here, right now. The fact that I can say, I have a favorite Jersey City band, means there are enough good bands around to select a favorite. I don’t know where they came from or why they decided to be here, but it happened in the 00s and I’m glad it did.
St. Boniface, the Roman Catholic church on First Street, was closed this decade and now it’s boarded up and for sale. Jersey City has a lot of active Catholic Churches—and there used to be more—an obvious result of being a city of immigrants for most of the 20th century. The churches, which often include ancillary buildings such as rectories and schools, are owned by the Archdiocese of Newark and, particularly in the pre-recession years of the 00s, their real estate value ascended towards the heavens. Church attendance and contributions are down, while the financial needs of the shelters, soup kitchens, orphanages, seminay, schools and hospital systems the Archdiocese operates are increasing. Newark was not hit as hard as other dioceses from the Priest sexual abuse scandals, but the legal bills and settlements have played thier part in diminishing the coffers of Newark. In the mid-90s, as a cost-saving measure, five parishes were consolidated in Downtown Jersey into the Parish of Resurrection. Boniface was one of them—the property has not yet been sold—it should be remembered that when sold, the money will go to the Archdiocese, not the Parish of the Resurrection. Earlier this year, St. Peter was closed, but the church was decomissioned and the building incorporated into St. Peter Preparatory High School. Enrollment for this school is rising, because of its high ratings, not for a renewed demand for a Catholic education. Many downtown Catholics worry that their church will be the next to be closed—a reasonable fear, since there seems to be more churches than the downtown neighborhood needs. In the 80s, public protests accompanied the closing of St. Lucy’s (the church itself remains fallow, but the other buildings are now a homeless shelter). In Boston and other cities, the closing of a church resulted in protests and occupations that lasted more than a year. You live in a city all your life, and a specific neighborhood church has been part of your life since your baptism, it’s a highly charged emotional event, especially when it looks like an archdiocese is doing it for the money. Well, let’s see how successful the sale of St. Boniface goes. Besides the religious role, these old city churches have historic value, and striking art—St. Boniface, a church founded by German Immigrants, had a stain glass window of St. Boniface chopping down the tree of Thor with a sword. The legend is that with that sword, he turned pagan Germany Christian.
Holy Rosary Feast
Still known locally as “The Feast,” the street fair that takes place in mid-August has become a celebration of Italian food and everything Italian (but mainly the food). During a few years, in the 90s and even into the 00s, organizers were not up to the task as much as previous generations. By mid-decade though, the organizing committee of The Holy Rosary Church reenergized the feast, changed the structure with vendors, added booths and other features. It is not only an annual event that the city looks forward to and attracts visitors far and wide, organizers of other street fairs are envious. The future of the Feast seems certain, which was not always the case. In the 00s, the Feast was turned around and is now the Summer Street fair standard for the rest of the city.
The Rise & Death of Glenn Cunningham
I voted for Glenn Cunningham, which is not surprising, since except for rare instances, such as Schundler, I vote Democrat. I saw Mayor Cunningham one time at the Holy Rosary Feast. He was wearing a stylish summer suit. He struck me as somebody who was comfortable with himself, very confident fellow; he possessed that innate charisma some folks are blessed with—pretty handy for a politician I guess. He bought a beer at the bar stand—insisted on paying for it—when he was told the price, he joked that it was too much but for a good cause. That’s why I think I remember him wearing a suit, a light gray summer suit, because he reached into his suit jacket and had cash, or maybe a money clip. I remember him enjoying the beer—it wasn’t just for show; he seemed like a guy who enjoyed a cold brew on a hot summer night. Shook a few hands. People were excited to see him. It is not unusual for a city official to make an appearance at The Feast, but Cunningham struck me as more of a celebrity than other local politicians. I’ve never forgotten that moment, my only glimpse of the man.
His death was sudden, heart attack while jogging. Everyone was kind of shocked in town, the actual death a subject of much chit chat for days. A friend of mine, from the projects, told me he used to be chased by Cunningham when he was a cop and my friend a delinquent at the time, said he voted for him, said he was a good guy.
The first African American Mayor of Jersey City, no small achievement, and one that we all can take pride in. Let us not forget, his election was on the heels of Rodney King and O.J. trials and across the river, the shooting and killing of Amadou Diallo by Giuliani’s NYPD— but race did not seem to be any sort of significant issue in the election—nothing like some of the animosity that accompanied Harold Washington in Chicago or David Dinkins in New York. Maybe not the same feat as say, Obama winning the Iowa primary, but I can’t help but think that Jersey City, followed a sometimes very popular Republican Mayor by electing its first African American mayor, was a harbinger of sorts, a bellwether. Our attitudes about race have changed for the better. Our once slave holding nation elected a president of African descent (please note, at the time of the outbreak of the Civil War, there were nearly two dozen slaves legally held captive in New Jersey). Jersey City may not be a racial utopia, but unlike Newark, Trenton, Paterson, Camden, and even Atlantic City—there were no racially-based riots and unrest in Jersey City during the upheavals of the 60s. We made history with Glenn Cunningham and part of the making of that history was the lack of overt controversy—or fanfare—about the color of his skin.
He was a well liked Mayor, beloved in a way Schundler or Healy could never be. Maybe if Cunningham didn’t die so suddenly, before completing his term, some of the current corruption could have been averted. Cunningham’s wife, also a politician, was named to be part of some transition team of our new republican Governor, a bi-partisan gesture that speaks volumes of the esteem other politicians had for Cunningham and one that augurs well for her political future.
The Fall of Brett Schundler
One of the few, very few—I can count them on one hand and still hitch hike—times I ever voted for a Republican was for Brett Schundler. It may have been my first or second Jersey City Mayoral election. Schundler—the rising New Jersey Republican star, taking the N.J. Reagan-devotee mantle from Kean and Whitman. Our version of Giuliani—a republican mayor of a big democratic city, make the trains run on time and all that—minus the overt racial antagonism.
The mayor before him was tossed in jail. Schundler seemed to embody the sort of change many wanted in the 90s. He was a genuinely nice guy, very smart and apparently honest. You still see him around town. I saw him picking up litter in the street once. After he first became mayor, conservatives nationwide had high hopes for him and the future of the party (compassionate conservative, wink wink, nod, nod). And Schundler, he’s kind of an ultra-conservative, certainly more conservative than our usually blue state politicians claim to be. For him to achieve popularity here as Mayor speaks volumes about his political skills and innate likeability. All the cards seemed in his favor when he set his sights on Trenton in the 00s.
He ran against McGreevy—yes, our eventual Gay American ex-Governor who, in the wake of 9-11, made his boyfriend head of homeland security in New Jersey at a six-figure salary—and Brett didn’t only lose state wide, but the city that elected him twice as Mayor, came out in droves against him for Governor. According to Wikipedia—he lost Hudson County by 50,000 votes—in the scheme of things, a humongous margin. Yes, a well-liked Mayor, a Mayor who handily won a run-off election and before that, won in Jersey City the same night Bill Clinton got more than two out of every three Jersey City votes. But Governor, forget about it!
An incredible story—a republican who was fully supported by Democratic voters for mayor—a feat so miraculous that he rightly earned enough confidence to take a shot at Trenton. Then, he doesn’t just get clobbered state-wide, but in his hometown, he was drawn and quartered, bagged and tagged, then left by the curb for the Sanitation Trucks! Got beat so bad, he couldn’t even win the Republican nomination the next time he tried in 2005.
Schundler’s win was an amazing New Jersey political story in the 90s, and his loss in the 00s was even more amazing. He has since retired from politics, apparently. I’m glad about that. He’s a good guy and I’d rather never be tempted again to vote Republican. There are two lessons Schundler taught us in the 00s—(1) no one is immune from the forces of history; (2) New Jersey voters are as fickle as high school students drinking spiked punch on prom night.
For the most part, the bulk of the newcomers to Jersey City are from Generation Y—35 years and younger. Older than that, you’re either a Generation Xer or a baby boomer. I like Gen-Y. I have nieces and nephews in that age group and in the late 90s and early 00s I was a writing tutor at the New School and interacted with dozens of Gen-Y students. They honestly do not seem to be as arrogant as Generation X or Baby Boomers. Their youthful years lacked callowness. They also love Jersey City. They have livened up the joint!
What troubles me though is that Jersey City seems only to be getting Gen-Y whites. I was talking to a friend of mine, a teacher who is Puerto Rican and J.C. born & bred about this. Yuppies have been around for two decades or so, and I guess I’m technically one—Caucasian, college educated and living in a city, preferring to live in a city. I asked my friend, where are all the Gen-Yers of color? She clued me into something. A young adult of color, of Hispanic or African-American descent, they don’t want to move to Jersey City because they put that they live in Jersey City on their resume, employers think they are from the ghetto. This may sound true, but I wonder how true. Certainly young adults around from many ethnic groups are noticeable, even though white folk seem to predominate.
An “00” development in Jersey City is a demographic shift, reflective of a myriad of social trends—the white population seems to be growing in cities, though shrinking nationwide. By how much and for how long, who can tell. I don’t have a problem with it per say. I like the people moving here and living here. They are not racist—in fact, they seem ultra progressive. Real estate folks are not using prejudicial sales techniques, which are illegal anyway. I am concerned that people are being displaced—even if the displacement is just simply becoming outnumbered. Maybe the reasons for displacement are not race, but income—and who can control the market rate for housing? If the reason for displacement is either race or economics, the outcome is still unjust and immoral.
It is also self-defeating. We love Jersey City because of the character of Jersey City. It’s those people who are not rich—or white—that have given Jersey City the character we love. If enough of them leave, or become completely outnumbered, we won’t know what we lost until it has gone. The city’s character will be diminished. Is there an issue here, a choice to be made, or are we all just blameless victims in our little microcosm of inevitable social change?
Culture of Bribery
The Summer Arrests resulting from an FBI sting—41 New Jersey politicians and officials—our city claims 11 of those arrested—the most indictments of all N. J. municipalities. J.C. still numero uno! Yes, we’re shocked, shocked, and vexed... vexing it is. And shocked, I mean it.
The repercussions still dominate the local news, and I suspect they will reverberate for many years, and elections to come. For people who revel in making Jersey jokes, the FBI Sting resulted in endless fodder. But, certain aspects of the arrests distinguish them from the Jersey-City-politician-indicted-and-jailed sagas of previous decades.
The amount of the bribes in the sting were like $5,000, kind of low. This indicates that a thriving culture of bribery exists. Somebody is not going to risk jail time for that relatively small amount of money unless they are getting lots of those amounts. Small amounts get the job done because so many are dolling out bribes as a cost of doing business. There could only seem to be no risk in accepting a small bribe if nearly every developer is giving out small bribes.
But The FBI and State Law Enforcement don’t appear to be interested in prosecuting developers—or looking into where developers are getting funding. In New Jersey, law enforcement will go after the politicians. The news media can get recognizable names—didn’t I just vote for that guy or gal—and everybody is shocked and vexed.
What about going after the developers, the ones who are giving out the bribes? Where is their sting operation?
In addition, where are the journalists, law enforcement officials and un-bribed politicians examining how this culture of bribery has affected our urban planning? The aesthetics of our skyline or the infrastructure required to sustain quality of life—what issues related to those urban planning decisions were a result of the culture of bribery. Construction and Development must be planned, regulated and monitored from plan approval to ribbon cutting. In a culture of bribery, who inspects the inspectors?
The Jersey Journal photo-op of a locally known Council Person doing a perp walk—we like that because we can make easy jokes about it with our in-the-know friend who works for the city. But this corruption has everything to do with unrestricted and unregulated construction and development—and that affects the safety, health and well being of us all. A funny story about cash in a box of cereal left at a Jersey diner gets picked up by CNN. Yet, where is the reporter asking why every time it rains, a fetid lagoon lingers around every other street corner in Jersey City, sometimes for days. Residential development—not low cost housing either—continues unabated—who is upgrading our infrastructure to handle all our new residents? Who is doing the bribing so officials look the other way. We have newspaper men on the payroll, don’t we Tom?
The other, very serious repercussion happened in November and may indeed impact all of America, not just our fair city. Hudson County, and Jersey City, are bedrock Democratic Party. The sting killed that loyalty. In the N.J. Gubernatorial race, less than half of the registered Democrats in Jersey City bothered to vote for the unlikable and uncharismatic Corzine. Republicans did not stay home. Democrats were so disappointed with politicians they failed to support our unpopular Governor and a Bush-appointee now runs our state!
It’s a tough choice, vote for an unpopular leader of a party on the state level tainted by corruption, or vote for a right-wing freak. I guess the answer is stay home, and more than half of Hudson County didn’t bother to follow through on their support for Obama. The problem is we live in polarized times. The right wing wants to turn my country and yours into a two-tier society. Every time you don’t vote, that means a right wing vote is un-nullified. Every non-vote is a vote for the Dark Side of the Force. Bush was the worst president in our History. He destroyed our economy and his mishandling of two wars led to the deaths of countless civilians and more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers. Not voting as a protest against corruption put a Right Winger at the helm of of our state government and gave the Right Wing a powerful foothold in our once solidly blue state.
If this trend continues, say hello to President Palin! You betcha!
Our Second City
They built a second city in Jersey City in the 00s. I share a similar experience with a lot of folks I know. It’s funny how you can walk around the same neighborhood, day after day, year after year, and there will be a clusters of blocks you rarely cross. Three, four years ago, when I walked to the corner of Jersey & Grand for the first time in quite a while, I was astounded to see blocks and blocks of multi-story buildings. A Second City. I know they have a name for this neighborhood, them real estate people love a catchy name to put into a catchy catch phrase. It’s west of Paulus Hook, south of Van Vorst, East of Jersey City Medical.
Somebody recently told me this new construction is considered the epitome of state of the art urban planning. Looks fine to me, I have nothing against it and I welcome the new neighbors. But it sure just seem to pop up. I mean, I guess there had been construction, demolishing of the few buildings. In spite of the apparently accelerated construction, I’m sure all of our inspectors made sure it was built to code, right? I thought it just empty lots of contaminated soil, but now it’s a Second City.
I have no objection, just an over riding concern—what infrastructure augmentations and additions were made to accommodate our Second City to ensure a functioning city and quality of life for all?
Flamingo & Brownstone
Even better than being the birthplace of Springsteen, Sinatra, Roth, Ginsberg and Nicholson, the most important contribution to Western Civilization by the state of New Jersey is the Jersey Diner. Jersey City should take pride that in the 00s, efforts to keep this tradition alive were successful. We have some of the best diners in the state!
There was some crazy talk earlier in the 00s to widen streets in Exchange Place and remove the splendidly dingy but with great food Flamingo Diner (I know, actually called Flamingo restaurant) from Exchange Place—Mayor Glenn Cunningham nipped that in the bud. Responding to public outcry, he saved the Flamingo and this 24-hour Oasis remains part of our lives!
The Brownstone Diner on Jersey Avenue, (Brownstone Pancake Factory officially), was actually a Roach infested dump in the 90s. I was sitting at the counter waiting on a sausage and egg on a roll when I saw a roach the size of a silver dollar scurry across my placemat. Didn’t go back for years, until the 00s, after the completion of a lengthy renovation. The makeover was total—the exterior looks inviting, inside is cozy—a clean, well lighted place now. The menu is expanded. Great salads! Seriously awesome food. The staff is warm and friendly.
Special Shout out to the VIP on SIP in Journal Square—a scene from the Sopranos was shot there and they have maintained a quality Diner experience into the 21st century. Three great diners in one Garden State city, maybe not a record but certainly something we all can celebrate.
Like the brown shirts in fascist Europe during the 30s, dog owners in downtown used strong arm tactics to control city parks. They believed their dogs were entitled to more rights than human beings. In Van Vorst Park and Hamilton Park, dogs ran wild, basically ruining the lawns and causing a safety and health hazard. I knew of some elderly folks, having lived in the Hamilton Park neighborhood since the 1950s, who had to walk around—instead of through—the park because they were afraid of the unleashed dogs. They had been knocked down by out of control pets.
In July of 2004, I saw a large German Shepard run up to a child in the playground area at Hamilton. The dog barked and growled and lunged at her, nearly knocking her down. The unleashed dog scared this child out of her wits. The child was on the periphery of the playground area. The mothers started shouting at the dog owners, who quickly snapped the leashes to the collars on their animals. I actually went to the local cop shop, got some reassurances that they would crack down on the unleashed dogs and fine their owners. The law is that dogs must be on a leash, I made and put up fliers, even got a letter published in the Hudson Reporter. A rare occurrence of social activism on my usually inert part, but I couldn’t get that little girl's terrified face out of my mind.
Then, friends who live near the park, clued me in, they had been trying to stop this for years. I heard the same things from folks who lived near Van Vorst park. The dog owners had an attitude of entitlement about their pets. They refused to take responsibility for their pets or to obey the law. They opposed a dog run because it would take away a dog’s freedom to run throughout the park. Once a council man—now former councilman—was campaigning in Hamilton Park while unleashed dogs were running wild and I asked him what he plans to do about this problem. He said he could do nothing. Real Estate brokers were known to entice potential owners and tenants with dogs by telling them how pet friendly the park was, no leash needed. The reputation of these parks spread and people from outside the neighborhoods would come with their dogs and let them run free. I once saw a car park and two Great Danes, the size of ponies, leapt from the car and into the park, the owner not even bothering to leash the dogs for the walk from the car into the park.
You can have the best trained dog in the world, but when dogs get together in packs, they become less controllable. And most of the owners spend their park time socializing among themselves, not intensely supervising their animals. Besides, you never can predict how an individual dog will behave when confronted with an unfamiliar person. About two years ago, responding to growing outrage by parents, a fence was erected around the playground in Hamilton Park. Yes, the children were fenced in because they had less rights than the dogs. It looked like a Concentration Day Camp—disgusting, but at least the toddlers could play safely.
Finally, they built a dog run in Van Vorst—and guess what, the dogs are happy, they have a place to play, and the lawns are green, lush and sanitary. The design for Hamilton Park—currently closed for reconstruction—includes two dog runs. Safer, cleaner parks for all and instead of fencing in children, we’re fencing in animals. The battle for dog runs and responsible pet ownership in Jersey City was finally won in the 00s!
A group of volunteers spent several years cleaning up this once abandoned movie palace. It now hosts a well-attended monthly film series and a growing number of live events, including concerts. The balcony still needs fixing and the lack of air conditioning limits the theater to an October to May season, but this decade those volunteers by saving this undeniable historic landmark has enhanced the quality of life for everyone in Jersey City. The potential of Journal Square seems embodied in the theater. Already, buildings have been knocked down, development plans approved and implemented. Hudson County Community College has a nationally recognized culinary program and recently opened a conference center whose main promotion point is that events are catered by the cooking school alumni. Someday soon, as the economy improves, the Loew’s (and maybe the Stanley) will be completely renovated and turned into a major entertainment venue. It’s a remarkable space, next to ample parking and mass transit. This rising tide will lift all Journal Square (and Jersey City) boats, all because a handful of Jersey City residents understood what a lot of cities realized—the perseveration of the opulent movie palaces built during the Jazz Age enhances a city’s quality of life.
Right before Christmas, someone broke into one of those new luxury apartment buildings in the Exchange/Paulus Hook neighborhood and stabbed a mother and her child. Shootings in the projects on Christmas Day. Over the summer there was the shooting that resulted in the death of a police officer. Earlier this year, a bodega owner on Monmouth Street was inexplicably murdered in his store.
Crime and death will always be with us. I’m not following statistics so I can’t really say whether an uptick in violent crime has been detected this year or decade. Cities especially have always brought more into focus the divide between the have and the have nots. I have heard this from teachers and other Jersey City born and bred folks from both sides of the metaphorical railroad tracks—the projects are getting worse, gang involvement among teens has increased. Greenville, Marion and the Heights are more dangerous in the 00s than the 90s, according to the anecdotes I’ve accumulated. Downtown may have gotten nicer, safer, and cleaner in the 00s—but how long can that last if the downward spiral continues for the rest of the city.
Being 21st Century America, there’s no shortage of guns and no one creating middle class income blue collar jobs. HUD housing alongside Multi-million dollar condos, that’s Jersey City and maybe it’s always been two cities, but the contrasts are starker, and the divisions deeper, while at the same time, the two cities grow closer in proximity. Our culture has not become less violent. The crimes I mentioned, which are only the recent ones that come to mind, sure seem like symptoms of this clash of two cities, and unlike the 90s, jobs, careers and educational opportunities declined in the 00s.
Gold Coast Fitness
I’m not sure the significance was apparent when the “100 Club” move from its tiny Montgomery Street space to the former basement level of C.H. Martin, expanding its offerings and changing its name to Gold Coast Fitness. Gold Coast became a popular term when Jersey City expectations, perhaps higher than they should have been, became known as the Gold Coast—even though I don’t think coast is a synonym of River Bank. At the time there were only two gyms in the vicinity, both filthy and known as “thug” gyms. Gold Coast showed that there was a population here that wanted decent services-baby boomers and gen-exer like to stay in shape, at least some of them. It was never a chic Gym, but seemed like it at the time compared to the now defunct grimy thug gyms. Gold Coast Fitness was the first milestone in the transformation of Newark Ave, soon the long time Optometrist moved across the street into a nice, modern, more eyeglass boutique office, the produce bodegas expanded their inventory, a high-end furniture store opened in a space once occupied by a discount store. Some nice restaurants opened. Facades were repainted, better signage was hung. The transformation is far from complete and recently, it seems stalled. But the future direction was established by Gold Coast. Now, there are really chic gyms—three more, within two blocks of Gold Coast—they’re brand name gyms and not locally owned. Glimpse into their windows and you see young, mostly white folks, sweating to their ipods in designer gym duds. Gold Coast has a diversity of members and staff and as it calls itself—is the Friendliest Gym in Jersey City. It is an independent gym, not a chain. The conundrum is that Gold Coast spurred growth that led to more competition by gym chain locations. In the twenty teens, this particular establishment remaining open in the new Newark Avenue fitness market may be a harbinger of a different sort
Jersey City Medical
Like most elderly folks, a friend of mine has had several hospital stays and knows a lot of people who have also been in a hospital. Born and bred, more about 70s years or so in Jersey City, he told me, “Jersey City Medical has come back.” In the 00s, this hospital moved down from the hell to its present center, and is considered the better hospital in the city. I put it on the list for this reason, not only has it been led to healthcare job growth in our fair city, but I’ve done some research, and it has become one of the higher rated hospitals in the state and is a teaching hospital. Jersey City Medical has put Jersey City on the healthcare map of the Northeast.
Creative Grove in and of itself, is not monumental. It started only in 09 and has more promise of success than actual success in taking the Jersey City art scene to its next level. The Artist Studio tour has been going on since the 90s, but it does seem to have more vim and vigor of late, with a little burst of adrenalin courtesy of the annual 4th street festival. Art Galleries have popped up throughout town, even at City Hall and a couple of the newer taverns showcase work. Creative Grove, aka the Grove Street Art Market may be a culmination of the various 00 Art Scene activities. Most of the artists in Jersey City are by and large, close to poverty and have been hit hard by the recession. It’s a pretty clique community. By and large, the work they’re doing is damn impressive. And, the word artist is so broadly used that it includes crafts—likewise, a very weak noun. Whether a painting or a hand-made hat, the artists dilemma continues to the struggle of adapting art to commerce. The city seems to be supporting the art community, the degree of inadequacy of that support depends on whom you talk to. Creative Grove is weekly, still embryonic, and brings together to a small degree, the different segments of the art community. You see paintings being sold in booths next to hats and candles. Is thriving too strong a term for our artists (and artisans and craftsmen & women)? At least, in the 00s, their presence has gained visibility. Creative Grove has made our artists less introverted. It’s the most visible example of the arts scene, which deserves mention as emerging in the 00s.
Paglia was a cat born in 1992 right here in Jersey City. He died in 2007. He was my cat, I can still get broken up about the loss, and haven’t replaced him. Everyone who knew him said he was a great cat. I was thinking of him around Christmas because he used to love laying on the window sill to watch the snow fall and I guess this was the first heavy snow since his passing. I miss him and for me, I guess his death—I had to put him to sleep—was my personal 00 event in Jersey City