Tag Archives: Jersey City

Walt Disney, Stephen Miller and the Future of Jersey City

2 Nov

Buildings … are not discrete objects. They are building blocks of a democratic society. W. H. Auden once proposed that a civilization could be judged by “the degree of diversity attained and the degree of unity attained.” In the spirit of service, architecture can contribute to both. Without the spirit of service, architecture can be a highly destructive force.

– Herbert Muschamp, Visions of Utopia

No doubt you are familiar with Walt Disney, the guy who made cartoons and nature documentaries, created the world’s first theme park, and gave his name to what is now the world’s largest entertainment company. But it’s been years since Disney himself appeared in the media – he died in 1966 – and his life story isn’t well-known, though there must be at least a dozen biographies of him (I’ve read four of them).

But what does Uncle Walt have to do with Stephen Miller and what do either of them have to do with the future of Jersey City?

And, by the way, WHO is Stephen Miller?

I don’t know how many laser cutters there are in Jersey City – 10, 20, 100, 763? I have no idea – but one of them is in his atelier off Harrison Street between Monticello and Bergen.

What’s a laser cutter?

It’s a high tech device used for cutting materials such as wood, plastic, leather, metal perhaps.

And what the h___ is an atelier?

It’s a workshop and design studio.

OK, gotcha, but what does that have to do with Walt Disney and what do they have to do with the future of Jersey City?

Let’s start with Walt Disney. Disney was an entertainer; he made movies and went on to build a theme park. Miller is an entertainer too, though of a different kind. He’s musician and a very good MC – he tells me he used to front a band. And he’s a slammin’ djembe player.

And I know a little about djembe players. When I lived in upstate New York I performed with Eddie “Ade” Knowles, a percussionist who toured as a percussionist with Gil Scott-Heron early in his career. I hear and feel the same power and nuance in Miller’s djembe playing that Ade has in his.

OK, so he’s an entertainer, there are lots of entertainers in the world…

Just cool your jets. Don’t go getting testy on me. I’m gettin’ there.

Take a look at this video (embedded below). It’s a promotional video that Disney prepared for Epcot (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) and it shows a small city that’s very different from and far more interesting than what the Disney Company eventually built in central Florida.

Continue reading

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Jersey City Future: the Twilight Zone

25 Oct

I’ve been feeling that there’s something afoot in Jersey City, but I don’t know quite what. For example, here’s an empty block in Lafayette as it was two years ago (August 10, 2011):

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Here’s the same block earlier this year (September 14, 2013):

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Quite a difference.

Two years ago the block was deserted and derelict. This year it’s blooming with plants, art, and people.

What’s Going On?

In the small, that’s easy. Liz Perry and UMMI (Unified Mothers & Men Initiative) got the lot into Jersey City’s Adopt A Lot program in 2012. That summer a few people put plots into the lot and grew some stuff. The lot looked a bit better, but still rather thin.

This summer, UMMI’s Living Village Community Garden really took off. The City fenced it off, more people took plots, and the artists, poets, musicians, and other creatives moved in, the children, too. The garden won a prize for Seed Sowing, and the seeds are just plant seeds. We’re talking about life and friendship and getting along and getting up in the neighborhood.

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That’s one neighborhood, and I could name a lot more people here.

But I’ve got the impression that this sort of thing is jumping off all over the city. The most obvious indicator is all the street art. Some of that is City funded, but most is not. There seem to be a lot of Liz Perrys in Jersey City, a lot of UMMIs, and they’re building neighborhoods.

What’s driving that?

My first theory is that it’s the recent election. A young upstart, Steve Fulop, defeated a two-term incumbent, Jerramiah Healy. It’s not simply that Healy was a two-termer, but he was a member of the Democratic machine that’s run Jersey City for a half to three-quarters of a century. Continue reading

Does Jersey City have more Creative Potential than NYC?

21 Oct

Can Mana Contemporary make the transition from NYCArt in Jersey City to scene weaver?

It’s time to revisit a question I posed a couple of months ago in the wake of Steven Fulop’s ground-breaking election as Mayor of Jersey City: is Jersey City a 21st Century Florence?

A Time for New Institutions

First let’s once again review a crude little story I’ve been telling for years. It goes like this:

In the Medieval West the Catholic Church was the institutional center of intellectual life. Then the West underwent a massive cultural change, the Renaissance, and new life ways and new institutions emerged. A new system of colleges and universities supplanted the church as the central institution of intellectual life. That system served us well up through the end of the 19th Century and into the early 20th Century.

But the world is once again changing. And this time it’s not the West alone that’s undergoing a metamorphosis. It’s the whole world, kicking and screaming.

So, just what are the possibilities for new institutions? Are any emerging?

On the latter question, sure, I guess. But the basic institutions of life in the West, if not the rest, have been inherited from the 19Century and before. This is overlaid by large international corporations and various international treaties, pacts, and NGOs. And the web has emerged in the last 20 years as a vehicle of communication and dissemination, and it’s certainly changing the institutions of higher education.

But the deepest kind cultural work needs to be done face-to-face. What are the prospects there?

Well, of course, I don’t know. But let’s think about the three institutions I’ve been examining recently: Mana Contemporary, the MacArthur Fellows Program, and the SUNY Buffalo Department of English for roughly a decade or so in the 1970s. Can we make something new out of that? What? How? Continue reading

A Birthplace of Spirits

9 Oct

The garden is empty now, at least empty of humans other than me, the photographer.

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But yesterday it was filled with people… Continue reading

Liberty State Park, a Photo Essay

27 Aug

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If you are familiar with Liberty State Park in Jersey City, then you will probably recognize the scene in the above photograph. It’s the walk way along Audrey Zapp Drive leading into the park. If you aren’t familiar with the park, then that photograph gives you an idea of what you might see when you visit that part of the park.

What of this scene?

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Yes, I DID take that photo when I was in the park. But I don’t remember where I was standing when I took that photo and have no more than a vague idea of how to get back there. That photograph is so very specific as to exact time and place that there is almost no change that that scene could be duplicated in another photograph. One could surely photograph another scene more o less like it in the park. But one could also take a similar photograph in any of thousands of other places. And yet that is a photograph of Liberty State Park.

So, what does it make to take a photograph of Liberty State Park? One photo can be used to jog one’s memory of the place, or to set expectations of what you’ll set when you get there. The other is very specific, and it evokes a mood, a feeling, one you can find IN the park. But is it typical? Does that matter?

The next photo is like the first in that it shows a recognizable feature of the park, the Liberty Science Center:

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And this one is like the second; it was taken in the park, but could have been taken any one of many places:

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And then we have this photo: Continue reading

Jersey City, a Photo Essay

1 Aug

If you had to portray Jersey City in only a dozen photographs, what photos would you choose? I took a crack at that this morning and failed. It took me sixteen photos. Here they are, with light commentary.

* * * * *

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I think of that as a Chamber of Commerce shot, or a postcard shot. It’s slick, bright, and cheery. But it’s also real. That’s the Jersey City that’s been getting all the attention, the Jersey City of Big Money high-rise buildings on the waterfront.

This is Jersey City from the other side:

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When you drive into downtown Jersey City heading to New York City by way of the Holland Tunnel, that blither of signs is what greets and guides you. For tens and hundreds of thousands of commuters and travelers, that’s all there is to Jersey City.

And this Jersey City is hidden to most, but it’s near to my heart:

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The graffiti is first class and, like almost all graffiti, it’s transient (as are we). Some homeless men got embroiled in a conflict several months later and set fire to one another’s stuff (see it there in front of the wall?). These pieces were badly burned and are now underneath several more layers of paint. Continue reading

How I Found a Home in Jersey City and Got Steve Fulop Elected Mayor, Part 3

18 Jul

When the second installment ended I was photographing graffiti and had started volunteering in the Hamilton Park Neighborhood Association. There I found out that Janice Monson, who taught in the Jersey City schools and was a hardcore activist, used to take her students up on the Newport Wall and take their pictures upon graduation.

Back in November of 2006, before I’d shown up at an HPNA meeting, I was walking around, or perhaps I was in the car on the way back from my Sunday AM grocery run. One or the other, it doesn’t much matter. Anyhow, I spotted some color:

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That’s the stuff, says I, that’s the stuff. When I got closer, I noticed a ramp against a wall:

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And then this:

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Someone was obviously using this site—the floor slab of an abandoned industrial building of some sort—as a park for skateboarding and BMX bike riding. See:

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I took that one in July of 2007. Notice that the art on the walls has changed. It seems that some local, and not so local, graffiti writers used this site as something of an experimental gallery even as the skateboarders and BMXers used it to hone their athletic skills.

All off the books, so to speak. They were trespassing on this land. But no one cared. The cops certainly knew what was going on. Sure, it was a little off the beaten path, but only a little. The site’s not particularly remote or hidden. Oh, they knew, the cops. But why hassle the kids? They weren’t hurting anyone; the land wasn’t being used for anything. Let ‘em use it; keeps ‘em outa’ trouble. Continue reading

How I Found a Home in Jersey City and Got Steve Fulop Elected Mayor, Part 2

17 Jul

By the end of the first part of this essay I’d made my way to Jersey City and bought a point-and-shoot camera. Jersey City was where I lived, but not my home. I had no home, unless it would be the virtual world of intellectual activity.

What that camera allowed me to do was to connect my intellectual world to Jersey City itself. It’s not merely that Jersey City is where I live and so where I conduct that intellectual activity, but that Jersey City itself became the subject of that intellectual activity. And more.

It’s 2004 and I return from my conference in Chicago with a camera full of photographs of Millennium Park. I turned them into an online exhibit that my friend (and one-time teacher) Bruce Jackson put online as a working paper. And I shelved the camera. Except every now and then I’d get it out and walk around taking photos, mostly of this and that.

In the Fall of 2006 I decided to photograph signs: street signs, billboards, signs on cars, storefronts, and, of course, graffiti tags, which were plentiful.

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I decided they might be particularly interesting. After all, this mural was just across the street from my apartment:

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What if there were more like that? Continue reading

Bulletin: KidZ Dig Worms

28 Oct

First, the Big Dig. Last year on Oct. 22 hundreds of citizens of Jersey City fanned out across the city and planted 10s of 1000s flowers. We did it again this year on Oct. 27. One thing I was reminded of on both occasions is that children really dig worms. Here’s last year:

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And this year:

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Political Connections: Lafayette to Montpelier

19 Sep

On the one hand I’m involved in projects in my neighborhood (Lafayette in Jersey City, NJ), most notably a community garden, but also an anti-litter campaign, and I’m looking to do something with music. On the other hand I just got back from a trip to northern Vermont where I was part of a five-state aggregation of nine musicians that provided music for a conference on Vermont independence, which means Vermont seceding from the United States and establishing itself as a sovereign nation once again (Vermont was a republic between 1777 and 1791).

What do these two spheres of activity have to do with one another? What are the connections?

Some People Links

There is, of course, the fact that I’m involved in both sets of these arenas. I live in the Lafayette neighborhood of Jersey City and am working to make it a better neighborhood. Lafayette’s my home.

I traveled to Vermont at the behest (when was the last time I used that word?) of Charlie Keil, an intellectual and musical compatriot. Charlie is an anarchist, as am I, and a pacifist, ditto. We were both conscientious objectors during our years of draft eligibility. And we’re both musicians.

In particular, Charlie is interested in getting more people to make live music and he’s interested in what he calls a 12/8 Path band, which is a strolling brass band at home in 12/8 time. We’ve played many demonstrations together in New York City, including a large anti-war demonstration prior to the invasion of Iraq and an anti-nuclear demonstration where Japanese and out-numbered everyone else.

But, how’s that get us to Vermont celebrating the future independence of Vermont? Simple, really. Charlie believes in “small is beautiful” and I’m OK with it. Breaking the USofA into a number of smaller and more flexible states seems like a reasonable thing to do. That’s something advocated by Thomas Naylor, an economist and an activist for Vermont independence. It’s Naylor who brought Charlie to Vermont and I came along.

Me and a bunch of other guys. Since this post is about connections I could legitimately talk about these others. But I won’t. For one thing, that could easily go on and on and on as I start moving out along those networks. For another, I don’t know much about most of them except that they’re good and versatile musicians, which I learned from playing with them, some of the for the first time in Vermont. But I’ll mention one, trombonist Steve Swell, who’s sympathetic to Charlie’s politics and mine. You can track his musical links through his Wikipedia entry. Also, Steve’s loosely familiar with my neighborhood as he went to college in Jersey City. Continue reading