Left Bank of the Hudson: Jersey City and the Artists of 111 1st Street

Left Bank of the Hudson: Jersey City and the Artists of 111 1st Street

Left Bank of the Hudson: Jersey City and the Artists of 111 1st Street

Left Bank of the Hudson: Jersey City and the Artists of 111 1st Street

Synopsis

In the late 1980s, a handful of artists priced out of Manhattan and desperately needing affordable studio space discovered 111 1st Street, a former P. Lorillard Tobacco Company warehouse. Over the next two decades, an eclectic collection of painters, sculptors, musicians, photographers, filmmakers, and writers dreamt and toiled within the building's labyrinthine halls. The local arts scene flourished, igniting hope that Jersey City would emerge as the next grassroots center of the art world. However, a rising real estate market coupled with a provincial political establishment threatened the community at 111 1st Street. The artists found themselves entangled in a long, complicated, and vicious fight for their place in the building and for the physical survival of 111 1st Street itself, a site that held so much potential, so much promise for Jersey City.

Left Bank of the Hudson offers a window into the demographic, political, and socio-economic changes experienced by Jersey City during the last thirty years. Documenting the narrative of 111 1st Street as an act of cultural preservation, author David J. Goodwin's well-researched and significant contribution addresses the question of the role of artists in economically improving cities. As a Jersey City resident, Goodwin applies his knowledge of the city's rich history of political malfeasance and corruption, including how auspicious plans for a waterfront arts enclave were repeatedly bungled by a provincial-minded city administration. In writing this story, Goodwin interviewed thirteen artists and residents, two businesses, three government officials, and five non-profits, civic organizations, and community activists. The book chronologically explores the history and business of the P. Lorillard Tobacco Company, its evolution into a bustling arts community, the battle to preserve the warehouse as a historic structure, and the lessons to be drawn from the loss and ultimate demolition of the building in 2007, as well as the present state of the neighborhood.

Setting the facts straight for future generations, Left Bank of the Hudson provides an illustrative lesson to government officials, scholars, students, activists, and everyday citizens attempting to navigate the "rediscovery" of American cities.

Excerpt

Gentrification is a difficult phenomenon to define. Since the word entered the vernacular in 1964, it has acquired a lot of baggage as each person comes to understand it according to individual experiences. It is always an idiosyncratic idea, reframed city by city, neighborhood by neighborhood, home by home. For those being pushed out of a neighborhood, gentrification is displacement; for those capitalizing on new development, it is opportunity; for those in government planning the city of tomorrow, it is the chance to bring infrastructure and amenities to underserved communities. the effects of gentrification are always determined by the person or organization facing localized circumstances. Yet so much of the political discourse about gentrification is abstract and theoretical; it tends to fall along very certain ideological lines, unleashing fierce emotions, belying the complex human nature that truly defines the phenomenon. This is a structural problem with how we talk and think about gentrification—and it often stands in the way of better understanding.

In most dictionaries, the headword is “gentrification,” the noun. It should be something that we can touch—a person, place, or thing. Any attempt to better understand how gentrification affects communities must be grounded in these tangible components. in Left Bank of the Hudson, David Goodwin does exactly this by grounding us at 111 1st Street in Jersey City, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York City.

While conversations about gentrification in the greater New York City area became more exigent at the end of the twentieth century, as . . .

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