The People's Guide is a series examining New York City's many, many neighborhoods, led by our most loyal readers, favorite bloggers, and other luminaries of our choosing. Have a piece to say? We'll be happy to hand over the megaphone.
This time around, we welcome Janelle Gunther, a three-year resident of Jersey City—not a New York City neighborhood, but the city that won the 2016 Curbed Cup nonetheless. Gunther is part of the team that runs Barcade, which opened its Jersey City outpost downtown in 2011. She lives in Lincoln Park.
What brought you to Jersey City, and what keeps you there?
Barcade was looking to expand, so we scouted Jersey City as a possible location. During our first night on the town, I immediately fell in love with some of the architecture, especially a row of seven Victorian gingerbread delights on Wayne Street—they stopped me in my tracks. By the time the bar opened in 2011, my husband and I decided to start looking for a house here. We moved to Jersey City three years ago this week, with no plans to leave.
What’s something people don’t really know about Jersey City?
There are many peculiarities to the layout of the city owing to the history of the railroads, as well as the disuse and removal of those railroads over time. On one end of the spectrum, there’s Newport; it’s filled with tall residential and office towers, built on a large swath of former rail yards starting in the mid-’80s. On the other end, there’s The Island, a tiny sub-neighborhood of The Hilltop section: there is one street in and out at the west end, and a pedestrian footbridge on the east end.
What's the housing stock like?
It varies depending upon the neighborhood. The historic downtown is largely row houses (brownstone, brick, and frame construction). Newport and parts of the Paulus Hook waterfront contain high-rise apartment towers. Where I live, Lincoln Park, there
are several blocks lined with stately Victorian and Edwardian mansions, as it was the Doctors Row back when this neighborhood was more or less the suburbs of Jersey City. There are also larger brick apartment buildings developed just after the turn of the century as the population boomed.
Do you think it’s better for renters or buyers?
Real estate prices have been increasing steadily in the downtown area, and I’d say maybe around half of my friends who rent downtown have moved or plan to move further out, into Bergen-Lafayette, Hilltop, and the Heights. Sometimes I’m shocked at how much the homes and apartments are listing for, particularly in the downtown market, compared with when we were house hunting.
That said, I imagine they are still more reasonable than geographically-comparable neighborhoods in Brooklyn. A lot of high-rise development is underway in Jersey City, particularly in and around Journal Square, and also Lackawanna Center, so I'll hazard a guess the needle is moving slightly in favor of the renters.
Is the city good for kids?
There are many kid-friendly activities (indoor gyms, children’s art classes, dance programs, martial arts, yoga), as well as many parks and playgrounds. We’ve found a good number of family-friendly restaurants, and we’d be lost without our family membership to Liberty Science Center.
Our family is still in the early stages of thinking about schooling, but I get the impression our experience will not be that much different than our friends’ across the river. Public pre-K is available here, and Jersey City was one of the pre-K programs the NYC public schools researched prior to launching their own version.
What are some hidden gems?
The white sand beach at Newport Green surprised me when I stumbled upon it one summer with my daughter. I thought we were just going to visit a nice, green park (which it is), but ended up spending the morning in an Adirondack chair, under an umbrella with our feet in the sand, enjoying the Manhattan skyline.
What’s the best park in the city?
My pick is Van Vorst Park, located downtown. It’s surrounded by stately row houses, and incredibly lush—a neighborhood resident has been largely responsible for all of the planting for the past 15 years or so. There are a wide variety of flowering shrubs and rose bushes, planted without regimentation, in spring and summer it becomes a menagerie of blooms.
My neighborhood park is Lincoln Park, built at the turn of the 20th century. The eastern half of the park houses a large playground and spray pad, tennis courts, a pond, picnic areas, athletic fields, basketball courts, and a rebuilt running track. The western half of the park is primarily a wetlands restoration full of wildlife. There are pedestrian walkways throughout, snaking around the back side of the recently-completed 9-hole golf course. A stroll through the marsh grasses and wildflowers is a nice respite from city living, even if you can see the One World Trade and the Empire State Building on the horizon.
What’s the best-kept secret?
Second Street Bakery, in the Village neighborhood, occasionally bakes pizza loaf (an essential component of New Jersey Italian hot dogs). If you thought you had to go to Newark for pizza loaf, you thought wrong.
What about a beloved neighborhood joint?
In my neighborhood of Lincoln Park, the place to be is Park Tavern. You can get a Guinness, or you can find a pint from a small craft brewery in Hoboken. No “Best Burger in Jersey City” list is complete without theirs on it.
Inflate the bubble or burst it: What's not-so-swell about your "perfect" neighborhood?
The streets can be a bit… hazardous. There’s a lot of unsafe illegal parking, double parking, aggressive driving, and jaywalking. There are local initiatives working to improve street safety, demand better enforcement, and provide more and safer bike lanes. With the arrival of Citi Bike in Jersey City, I think the momentum will build faster for these initiatives. For the time being, I tend to use my Citi Bike membership for recreation, utilizing the bike lanes within Lincoln Park, and riding around the wetlands pathways in Lincoln Park West.
The final word on Jersey City:
Don’t believe anything you read about Jersey City on the internet … come see it for yourself.