A Tale Of Two Visions For A Waterfront

<p>Activists in Jersey City are suing over plans to replace a fledgling waterfront arts district with new high-rises. The city says the land, which is next to commuter and light rail stations, is best used for "smart growth" high-density housing.</p>
May 15, 2008, 2pm PDT | Christian Madera | @cpmadera
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"Across the street from the hulking remains of the Hudson & Manhattan Powerhouse, which once provided electricity for what is now the PATH rail system, is a mountain of bricks and rubble in the middle of a sprawling vacant lot.

Once it was the site of the Lorillard Tobacco and Snuff Manufactory, the largest tobacco factory in the country. Later it was a thoroughly magical warren for hundreds of artists, and the inspiration for an arts district envisioned as a way to revive a decrepit, forgotten warehouse district near the Jersey City waterfront. Current plans call for it to become a 52-story residential tower designed to look like a precarious stack of blocks.

Whether or not you care to see Jersey City as New York's sixth borough, you could write a pretty interesting urban history centered on the 12 or so blocks now designated as its Powerhouse Arts District. But before you did, you would have to sort through two distinct story lines about how the tale has evolved.

One is a story of betrayal, how almost two decades of hard work and advocacy that produced a visionary plan for a low-rise arts district that preserved the area's past was shunted aside in favor of plans for megatowers and cookie-cutter urban development. The second is a story about the malleability of urban life, how neighborhoods always evolve and how no planning document can ever be exempt from the vagaries of market forces and social trends."

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Published on Thursday, May 15, 2008 in The New York Times
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