Image 1: North End Redevelopment Area Existing Conditions
Image 2: FBW Park Proposed for North End
Image 3: FBW Park Proposed for North End including tree-lined 15th Street
Image 4: Ill-conceived “Linear Park” in North End Redevelopment Plan (#3)
FBW | February 2, 2022
This report was prepared for the Fund for a Better Waterfront by architect Craig Whitaker and landscape architect John Imbiano dated September 13, 2021 and presented to the City of Hoboken in October of 2021.
North End Redevelopment Plan
The centerpiece and most controversial feature of the recently adopted plan for the North End Redevelopment Area are four mid-block alleys between 15th and 16th Streets stretching from Adams Street to Park Avenue. The planners call the alleys a linear park.
The alleys fail because they ignore the fact that buildings have fronts and backs, and that they have front doors and back doors, each serving a different purpose. Whether a building hosts retail, commercial or residential uses, its front door is the public entrance. Inside will be a hallway or lobby. In bigger buildings the lobby will often be manned by personnel providing security, taking packages and giving directions. If it’s the front door to a store or restaurant there will be signs and/or windows outside announcing what lies within.
The kitchen to the restaurant is in the back, so are the bathrooms, storage rooms, and utility rooms. It is where employees change clothes. Back doors are almost always locked for security purposes. Stores don’t want merchandise leaving without having been paid for, and offices and apartments don’t want unannounced strangers wandering about. The back is where the exhaust from the boiler is vented and where trash is stored.
The plan tries to solve this by showing buildings with no back doors at all. The buildings on the south side of the alleys have “flex” space on all four sides. Presumably, trash from these buildings will be carried out the front door and picked up from the sidewalks on 15th Street. The most comparable alleys in Hoboken to these are the ones between the municipal garages on Hudson Street. When one thinks of both one thinks of trash barrels waiting for pickup.
The residential buildings on the north side of the alley do have back doors on 16th Street and front doors in the alley, which means Grandma and the FedEx delivery man must traverse half a city block through the landscape to get to the front door.
Alleys can be an important feature, as they are in Back Bay, Boston and Georgetown or even in the blocks north of Washington Square Park in Manhattan. The buildings in these alleys were once stables or garages, which now have been refurbished with front doors facing the alley and private back yards. Most importantly the alleys provide each building with vehicular access. The buildings in the proposed North End Redevelopment Plan’s alleys do not.
The consultants seemed to have wished this, stating “the park” will also create a pedestrian-friendly setting while helping to discourage a single-block, traditional “donut’-style development.” (The hole in the doughnuts being backyards, which are private; whether used for trash or barbecues they are not intended to be seen by the public.) Doughnuts are called “traditional” because they work well as an organizing principle and have so since Hippodamus first designed them at Pireus in the 5th century BC. They are what gives Hoboken its special character.
The North End Redevelopment Plan’s alleys present a myriad of other problems. What if an owner subdivides or sells half a block or more. Who then controls the alley? Who maintains it? Who carries the accident insurance?
Retail is often the last use to be rented or leased in a mixed-use development project because retail needs a market. Until neighborhood residential and commercial uses are present retail doesn’t have that market. Any retail spaces and “flex” uses in the North Hoboken alleys would actually sap the viability of the new retail uses trying to survive on 15th Street.
The biggest problem of all are the mid-block street crossings from one alley to the next. Among the streets pedestrians must traverse are both Willow and Park, two of the busiest streets in Hoboken. Even with markings and signs, these crossings will be accidents waiting to happen.
One observer has suggested these alleys remind him of an architectural student’s thesis: earnest and infeasible.