The new Goldman Sachs tower on the Jersey City waterfront designed by Cesar Pelli caught the attention of architecture critic Paul Goldberger. In a July 30, 2004 The New Yorker article, Goldberger writes that this building, “is New Jersey’s tallest skyscraper, and, with its graceful profile and elegant glass facade, the most beautiful.”
Streetscape at Jersey City’s Newport project.
But in reviewing the mile long stretch of new development north of the Goldman Sachs building, Goldberger offers a stinging critique of what he calls the “dreary assemblage” of residential and office towers and big box stores. Goldberger comments that the “pleasing, small-scale urbanity” of downtown Jersey City with its charming mix of brownstones, restaurants and retail stores has not made its way to the newly developed waterfront.
Goldberger continues in his article, “The waterfront literally has no depth — it extends only a few blocks in from the Hudson — and it has no conceptual depth, either. Since it is also a place where some of the office workers live and shop, it ought to feel more like a real city, but instead we have a place with no center other than a suburban mall and, at least until Goldman Sachs came around, not a single building that could be considered a notable piece of architecture.”
Most of the development at Jersey City’s waterfront and in other Hudson River communities has been developer-driven. The City has played a passive role and thus has failed to assert its planning prerogatives. Goldberger sees this and remarks, “In a great or even a good city, the whole is usually more than the sum of its parts. In Jersey City, the parts and the whole are essentially the same thing, an incoherent splatter of buildings. It is not easy to traverse the place on foot . . . because the streets don’t always connect — a lot of the time there aren’t any streets. There are parking lots and open spaces and vacant lots and garages, many of which are set on wide streets that aspire to be boulevards but which look more like highways.”
Goldberger explains that cities “are built around public places, the most important of which are streets.” The failure to establish these streets, the public rights-of-way, is evident not just at Jersey City’s waterfront but also in West New York and Edgewater. The lack of streets in these communities makes it more difficult to access the state-mandated Hudson River Waterfront Walkway and diminishes the public nature of the water’s edge.