This letter is as much an expression of hope for the Hoboken that “might be” as it is a rendering of the Hoboken that “already is.” Since we shouldn’t forget our history either, I’ll begin with the past (“what was”) as I recall an oft repeated anecdote told me by many a charming B & R: original, born and raised Hobokenites. It goes something like this.
“Years ago, you knew so many people here it took an hour to walk two blocks on Washington Street!”
My fascination with memories like this has much to do with my work as an educator, in particular my concern with human dialogue. Many thinkers have enriched my understanding of these matters, including Marx, Buber, Dewey, Freire, and Putnam, but perhaps none so much as my friend Maxine Greene (a great Education philosopher who we sadly lost this year at the age of 96) with her insistence on “shattering the silences,” and her creation of a beautiful tapestry of ideas weaving democracy, community, the arts, and the public space.
I also find it significant that Hoboken’s heyday for sidewalk chat occurred during the1940s – 1970s, when the American middle and working classes were much stronger. Economist Paul Krugman refers to this period as the “Great Compression,” with more wealth concentrated in the middle than in the top 1 percent. In this golden age of strong labor unions, because working folks had a greater sense of dignity and empowerment—and more free time with a shorter work-week—the result was a more vital public sphere.
(To help America reclaim its democratic greatness, Hoboken’s council could join hundreds of other cities who’ve demanded a Constitutional amendment to rid politics of corruption by big money. To “legalize democracy,” in other words.)
Still, Washington Street retains its ancient Greek “agora” (gathering place) or European piazza aspect, and a crop of new cafes in town bring an increased element of sociability. Just as Symposia Bookstore remains a bastion of community life, as seen in the community dialogues my wife and I sometimes film there for our TV show Public Voice Salon. In the epic battle of Wall Street vs. Main Street, Hoboken’s Main Street culture is hanging tough. It even has a famous example in the Cake Boss. In a think tank I started called the Ethical Business Society, I urge the preservation of these local, small business treasures (where people know your name), against the onslaught of big, alienating corporate chains; just as I nurture the development of “conscious capitalism” in my 2013 book The Ethical Sales Agent.
Indeed, if we’re to save our planet (in this moment of dire ecological crisis), then the destructive “profits only” model of business must be replaced by an ethical new “bottom-line” that cares more about the needs of people, our communities, and our precious natural world than simply making a fast buck.
Educator, Media & Business Innovator