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AM New York

High Culture In New Jersey

No jokes, please; Jersey City takes its arts seriously


Special to amNewYork

It’s often called the "Sixth Borough” for good reason. Jersey City is within waving distance of Manhattan, where a quarter of its 242,400 employed residents work. But this historic and artistic enclave on the Hudson River has its own identity, which locals fiercely defend.

In other words, you won’t hear anyone cracking New Jersey jokes here. “The culture and the whole feel of Jersey City is unmatched,” said Elizabeth Young, executive director of the Historic Special Improvement District (HSID) and an eight-year resident. “The arts scene is well-supported and the level of community development is incredible.”

Comprised of about 10 districts, the heart of Jersey City lies in two neighborhoods:
Journal Square, the seat of local government; and a historic downtown. The main
corridors, Grove Street, and Newark and Jersey avenues, still support mom-and-pop stores, with quality restaurants and interesting boutiques breaking ground.

But the pride of the neighborhood is the flourishing arts scene. Long the home
of independent artists who came for the cheap space, Jersey City now boasts a
cohesive arts community thanks to organizations such as HSID, Pro Arts Jersey City
and Art House Productions,which engage artists across disciplines with each other
and the community at large. Art House founder and executive director Christine Goodman, herself an artist, said there’s no danger of Jersey City becoming the next SoHo or Chelsea. “I feel like the artists who are in Jersey City are here because they need to make the work happen in a real DIY way,” she said.

Even real estate agents say the neighborhood is all about keeping it real. “Without a doubt, Jersey City is a logical and viable comparison to neighborhoods likeWilliamsburg,” said Eugene Cordano, Halstead Property’s Metro Jersey director of sales. “But unlike those neighborhoods, it has diverse and affordable price points
for people wanting to buy.” Prices here, Cordano noted, are 25-30 percent less than in trendsetting areas.

Sophie Penkrat, a copywriter and 10-year resident, went one step further. “Jersey City-ites are very particular about where we live — we’re not like Brooklyn hipsters. Our pride runs deep and wide — we’ll fight on that!”

Thursday, June 18, 2009