A team of New Jersey– and Berlin-based designers is turning a hulking infrastructure relic in Jersey City into a catwalk-laced park that could serve as a model of community redevelopment. More than a century ago, the Erie Railroad sliced a four-track-wide cut through the Palisades mountain range. The resulting Bergen Arches linked to the railroad's Manhattan-bound main line along the banks of the Hudson, but when the railroad ceased operations in 1959, the arches were overtaken by forest and slowly forgotten. Now, placemaking organization Green Villain is working with Berlin-based So + So Studio to reimagine the arches as sites of recreation. The impetus was Jersey City's dizzying evolution from postindustrial New York City–adjacent afterthought to hip bedroom community that attracts artists priced out of New York, as well as finance types and regular people seeking urban life at a lower cost. In their project statement, the team hopes to spark conversation on land conservation in urban areas and provide recreation opportunities for Jersey City (JC) residents. “As our post-industrial city continues to amass mid to high-rise towers, it is imperative that we look down as much as we look up for the answers about individuality and place. The stick and steel will allow the residents to live here, Restaurant Row to eat here, but without Jersey City-centric projects that allow us to compete on the global stage we will always be haunted by the specter of placelessness. The Bergen Arches project is the answer. Help us to reclaim and revitalize these spaces that bear such history and call for a creative future for Jersey City.” Green Villain, with offices in JC, Denver, and Berlin, is a hybrid organization that specializes in mural-making, JC real estate development, event production, and creating consulting in partnership with SMBs, developers, and brands to place-make through music, technology, and art. Jersey Digs spoke with Green Villian's Bill Benzon, as well as So + So Studio's Kevin Driscoll and Rion Philbin, who outlined the site's distinctive features, the importance of railroads in JC's development, and the site's potential for transformation. The project's first goal is to connect neighborhoods with two new cuts, including one that would allow people to access the Bergen Arches on elevated walkways that then descend up to 60 feet, revealing the site's rich topology. Public art will augment the program to "boost Jersey City’s overall cultural reputation.” Train your eyes on the Bergen Arches website and Instagram to pick up more information on this developing project.
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As many baby boomers are reaching retirement, many think we need to have more of those important end-of-life discussions. There’s The Conversation Project, and as of this year, Medicare is now reimbursing discussions about near-death medical care. But what about the permanence of our cemeteries? How will urban areas—with increasing land shortages and rising urban populations—address, preserve, maintain, finance, update, and develop these spaces? Our cemeteries were some of the first public urban green spaces in the United States, serving as refuges from city life. But perhaps more so than other urban public parks, they are layered with a complex web of social, political, cultural, and environmental issues. “As the meeting point between the living and the dead, cemeteries are peculiarly fraught ground. That makes them easy for cities to ignore,” writes Next City. “Crime, environmental problems, historic preservation, social class, religious traditions, and the thorny legacy of who is included in cities, and who is not, all come crashing together in urban cemeteries.” Beyond traditional land burials, cremation is popular. Some are proposing vertical or skyscraper cemeteries. And then there are eternal reefs, cryonics, and composting. But in Austin, Texas—a city with one of the highest concentrations of millennials in America—urban planners and city officials are attempting to tackle the issues of future cemetery planning and historic preservation head-on. The city is proposing a top-down approach with its first-ever cemetery master plan that spans five urban cemeteries. The report outlines maintenance plans—a key part is improving drainage to prevent flooding–as well as developing outreach services to local residents. One idea Austin is proposing is columbariums: vertical funeral niches that would hold funeral urns. Voters approved a $2 million bond to begin the cemeteries' capital improvements in 2012, but the city will need to further address funding. Up for some historical reading? Here’s a 1950 report on city cemeteries from the American Planning Association’s Planning Advisory Committee.