Map Critique: Jersey City

Map Critique: Jersey City

Jersey City, NJ – once described by the New York Times as “an unfashionable town named after an unfashionable state” – is in the midst of an unprecedented development boom. Critical to the development boom has been a $1.2 million government-sponsored advertising and rebranding campaign. JC Make It Yours celebrates the city’s growing appeal and diversity through digital, print, radio, and streaming advertisements.

Maps about residential high rises, tax abatements, and projected redevelopment plans have become popular tools among bloggers, activists, and local startups. These maps take enormous amounts of complicated data and make it publically accessible. However, these maps visualize the development boom without contextualizing the city’s demographics, failing to provide a secondary layer of socioeconomic and racial data, and without showing other imbalances in the urban dialogue.

Thus, it is necessary to better understand and re-imagine Jersey City’s existing spatial divisions. The most distinct division in a city is the establishment of space by the state, meaning the creation of city boundaries, wards, or districts, as well as locations of funding, infrastructure, and development. In Jersey City, wards and their impact on electoral politics significantly influence the ethos of the city, where a legacy of political corruption and urban machine politics is still widely felt.

Jersey City Ward Map - Adopted in 2012

Jersey City Ward Map – Adopted in 2012

Knowing the boundaries of Jersey City’s six wards is essential to understanding cultural, social and power dynamics within the city. Each ward has districts (for electoral purposes) and distinct neighborhoods (for social purposes). Every district and neighborhood has a unique history that feeds into an idea of “the authentic Jersey City”. As more people move into Jersey City, longtime residents are torn between wanting to see the city thrive and wanting the city remain as it has always been. What will the city look like if it is no longer old-school Jersey City: ethnic, tough, eclectic, crass, cheap and blue collar?

These spatial divisions continually evolve as the city’s population grows. The ideal target population for each ward is approximately 41,000, with a margin of plus or minus 5 percent. Prior to redistricting in 2012, Ward E had an approximate population of nearly 50,000. Today the current population is between 38,000 and 41,000, and rapidly growing.

The subsequent shifting of 40 blocks from Ward E to Ward F impacted downtown Jersey City residents’ relationship with their community. The historic Van Vorst Park neighborhood was split, affecting their city council representation.

Ward E - Downtown Jersey City - 2009 (L), 2012 (R)

Ward E – Downtown Jersey City – 2009 (L), 2012 (R)

Yet the most significant divisions in industrialized cities like Jersey City are class and race. NJ Advance Media recently developed a race dot map of New Jersey, based off of 2010 census block data. Each dot (blue = white, orange = black, purple = Hispanic, green = Asian, gray = other) represents each person of each race of each Census block. The dots are then scattered randomly throughout their representative geography. Some dots are found in the middle of lakes or parks, meaning this map is not representative of where people actually reside.

race dot map NJ

Described as “the most detailed look at race in New Jersey possible with the information available today,” this map has a number of limitations, namely the inability to closely zoom into cities and neighborhoods.

Focusing on Jersey City, it appears to be one the most diverse areas in New Jersey.

jersey city race map

Yet after I traced and applied the most basic spatial division of Jersey City – ward boundaries – to this map, the racial divisions of Jersey City become more apparent.

jc ward map 2

In the case of downtown Jersey City (Ward E), concentrations of either black or Hispanic communities are those found in affordable housing complexes and senior citizen housing. I outlined these two types of housing in black.

race dot map ward e with divisions

My prototype showing (some) affordable housing in downtown Jersey City emphasizes the current racial divisions within Jersey City. It is not surprising then that Mayor Steven Fulop recently announced incentives to retool affordable housing in Jersey City as an attempt to eliminate the prominent class and racial divisions within the city.