On the Waterfront

Last year, Obsidian Kitten moved from a very urban area (Hoboken, which is a mile-square town just across the Hudson River from Manhattan) to a relatively rural one.

There is now talk amongst the village elders of building an industrial park on a large tract of farmland near the highway interchange. This plan has struck a surprisingly raw nerve with me.

I don't really think of myself as a political person. I am glad that there are people who are.

Mostly I'm just opinionated and kind of irritable. But I'm really grateful that there are people who care enough to do things about things -- you know, circulate petitions, organize marches, call senators, make signs. (I can sign and march and send email.)

And I vote. That's something easy enough for a relatively unmotivated person like myself to do. In my opinion, if you don't vote, you don't get to complain, at least not to me. So please vote. Then we can debate.

If you are a person who believes your vote doesn't count, please read the following. It is my story about voting.

This story concerns Hoboken's riverfront development and
the public referendums that ultimately shaped it into something
beautiful: a reasonable combination of commercial & residential
low-rise property designed with Hoboken's small scale in mind,
public access to the Hudson River the entire length of town, with
great public parks and even a commuter ferry slip.

Had the Hoboken Mayor and City Council originally had their way,
high-rises would've blocked the town off from the river with big
commerical construction that lacked proper permits or adequate
infrastructure. (I wonder if those folks paying $500,000 for condos
in Hoboken now would fork that over for rooms with no views and
no river access?) [And no, that's NOT an extra zero in there LOL]

Anyway, I wrote this last fall when friends were getting
discouraged about the upcoming elections. It's just my opinion,
based on my personal experience.

Bigger is not always better, but sometimes it's hard to put a price
tag on quality over quantity.

Once you smack a high-rise on your riverbank, or pave over your farmland, you can't get it back. Ever.

Just One Voice
Sept. 2004

I moved to Hoboken, NJ when I was 21 and called it my
hometown-of-choice for 14 years. This little Mile-Square City,
home to 30,000+ people, has a gorgeous mile-long stretch of
waterfront facing the west side of Manhattan. (Anyone seen "On the Waterfront"? It was filmed in Hoboken. *proud grin*)

Once the shipping industry closed its ports in the 1960s, the
Hoboken Waterfront (and Hoboken itself) fell into disrepair. The
1980s met an influx of artists looking for studios and inexpensive
housing, and these were soon followed by Yuppies and
gentrification (for both better and for worse).

Anyway, city officials were delighted with the 80s economic boom
and decided to develop the abandoned waterfront property.
Despite a ban on new construction of buildings over six stories,
they came up with a plan for several huge riverfront towers--office
buildings, luxury housing and the like. One particularly corrupt
builder, with ties to the mayor (who had ties to--well, that's another
story), was slated to begin the immense project. Permits were handed round with no due process and work was slated to begin.

A few citizens began asking questions. Why not have public parks on the waterfront? Is there infrastructure to support these enormous buildings? Do they meet building codes? There should be public access to the river, they argued. Moreover, city residents should have some say in what happens to the--to THEIR--waterfront.

The mayor and city council turned a deaf ear. So--to the shock and
horror of the city government--the Hobokenites called for a public

I should mention here that Hoboken is a city where it was tradition
for dead voters to turn in ballots, for people to vote twice (or more),
and for city employees to show up at the polls under duress, fearful
of losing their jobs. Yet the first public referendum was won by the
"Coalition for a Better Waterfront" (CBW) by a mere handful of
votes (I believe by a margin of 5 or 6 votes). City officials called for
a recount, of course, but the results were the same. The city
stubbornly pushed forward and took the CBW to court, contesting
their votes.

With the help of several local lawyers working for the CBW pro
bono, the CBW won the referendum in the end and the mayor's
project was blocked. Two more public referendums eventually
were called in relation to the waterfront project, and each was won
by the people (over the city government), by narrow margins. In the
end, the public had a big say in development of Hoboken's

A decade later, Hoboken's riverfront incorporates lowrise mixed-
use buildings that incorporate affordable housing. There
is public access to the waterfront the entire length of Hoboken (and
to adjacent towns as well. There are several public parks,
ballfields, a bike path, a skateboard park, an outdoor ampitheater,
and a ferry slip.

I might also mention that this same waterfront property (post 9/11)
has attracted an international publishing company, financial firms,
and others, plus some pretty swanky riverfront restaurants--but all
in buildings **in keeping with Hoboken's personality and small-
town scale.**

So, I know from experience that a mere 2 or 3 votes matter. A lot. I
voted in those elections. If I hadn't? Well...my vote counted.

Love in a ballot box,


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