New Jersey Politics and Government: The Suburbs Come of Age

New Jersey Politics and Government: The Suburbs Come of Age

New Jersey Politics and Government: The Suburbs Come of Age

New Jersey Politics and Government: The Suburbs Come of Age


As the United States moves toward becoming a nation of suburbs, New Jersey-its most suburban state-is a place more Americans should get to know. Its volatile, candidate-centered elections are decided by politically independent suburbanites. New Jersey's experience provides lessons as other states seek to protect the environment, improve the quality of life, and accommodate a multicultural society while sustaining growth and opportunity.


In 1923, Ernest Gruening edited a delightful guide for armchair travelers, These United States. Edmund Wilson Jr.—distinguished literary critic and native of Red Bank, New Jersey—contributed the essay entitled “New Jersey: The Slave of Two Cities.” He offered the following thesis: “It is precisely its suburban function which gives New Jersey such character as it has. It is precisely a place where people do not live to develop a society of their own but where they merely pass or sojourn on their way to do something else. Its distinction among eastern states is that it has attained no independent life, that it is the doormat, the servant, and the picnic-ground of the social organisms that drain it.”

In 1971, Gruening wrote a new preface to a reprint of his 1923 work. It was important, he told a new generation of readers, to know “a different America.” He offered but one caveat: “I doubt that Edmund Wilson, Jr…. would find much to change in his “New Jersey, the Slave of Two Cities.”

Gruening reflected a common view of New Jersey, but one already becoming out of date. More than three decades later, it is almost entirely wrong. It is not that New Jersey is no longer a suburban state. It is that the United States has become a suburban society, and in so becoming, it has enabled New Jersey to develop a society of its own.

A current New Jersey resident, Yogi Berra, once remarked, “You can observe a lot just by looking.” New Jersey looks different than it did in 1923, or even in 1971. To be sure, there are still pockets of “the cramped smudgy life of industry” that Wilson described. Parts of the southern Pinelands are still “desolate wilderness.” And certainly a journey to Princeton still means that “one seems to have at last reached a place where . . .

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