Where’s Hoboken? It’s a figurative question; but one that we might want to ask. As an important sustainability agenda in Hoboken expands, are we inadvertently promoting a disposable history? First we had economic development, then smart development, then family-friendly development and, of course, sustainable/green development. While we design ways to protect our fair city from inevitable weather events, isn’t it imperative that we not mistake green/sustainable development, and other marketing claims for what they might actually be: Ways to destroy the city’s existing neighborhoods for profit.
Have we reached the day when using the adjective ‘historic’ to describe Hoboken is false? How long before all of our neighborhoods are simply developments? Our mayor is working with a Dutch firm to make Hoboken more resilient. Amsterdam remains historic to this very day, yet every day more and more of our familiar buildings disappear. Hoboken’s historic character is on life support. Surely this Dutch firm can incorporate ways to avoid destroying our city’s existing character while also protecting us. Everyone loves Hoboken, don’t they? We hear this from so many of the city’s residents, so very often; but, what do they really love about Hoboken? It can’t possibly be its historic character if those same people that claim to love Hoboken turn a blind eye to such obvious destruction. Hoboken cannot continue to be that city with the “small town feel” if we continue to allow increased density in the heart of Hoboken. While we work towards resiliency, we cannot abandon history.
One attentive stroll around Hoboken reveals that building after building is being torn down and built taller, deeper, higher, denser. I’ve attended a zoning board meeting where a developer used the “green/sustainable” claim as a valid reason for increasing the density of a modest, existing building being raised and replaced with luxury (the real intent of the request) condominiums with 1MM+ price tags. Around the perimeter of Hoboken taller buildings ring the city, exacerbating the ‘bathtub’ effect we experience during flooding situations. We approve the plans for these up-zoned buildings because the developers’ attest that they will be “green” and we ignore what we already know to be true: Continued up-zoning and development in Hoboken cannot solve the very crisis that it’s already created.
Creating sustainable neighborhoods isn’t only about flood retention systems and green roofs that adorn our luxury condo buildings; it’s also about pursuing a greater good for all of Hoboken’s residents and part of that includes preserving our historic architecture and the remnants of a community that once was, but is no longer diverse. Sustainability is also stability, a factor that has been too often ignored as we march further and further down the path towards eradicating the very thing that drew us to Hoboken in the first place.
While we race the clock to protect the city from the next severe weather event, let’s not forget this.