Tuesday, May 17, 2005

From Old Industrial Plants to Multi Million Dollar Housing

Many people might look at a place like Bergen County and think that this is a place that has few worries. Here are some stats for the county compared to the national average: % with High School diploma 86.6% (80.4% in USA); Bachelor degree or greater 38.2% (24.4%); Per capita income $52,867 ($21,587); and Families below poverty level 5.7% (9.2%). But just like the poorest, most remote county in the USA, Bergen County has issues that keep people awake at night.

After my talk Kevin O’Connor, chair of the planning commission for Edgewater, NJ (one of the 70 towns in Bergen County), showed me around his community and talked about how Edgewater has transformed itself. As you could imagine from its name, Edgewater sits on a major waterway, the Hudson River. You can look across the river and see the Empire State Building. The town stretches for about 3 miles along the Hudson, but is only 2 to 3 blocks wide.

Historically Edgewater was a major industrial town with companies like Alcoa, Ford, Celetex and others having major manufacturing plants in the community. Their plants were built along the river affording them an easy and cheap shipping mode. The German, Irish and Polish immigrant workers lived near the plants, walking to work. All of that changed in the 1960s and 1970s when the manufacturers shut down their plants one after another. Edgewater was hit with a body blow and was on the ropes. Its population dwindled to around 3,000 people.

Fortunately, Edgewater’s location near Manhattan has allowed the town to reposition itself from an industrial town into a residential and retailing one. Many communities aren’t so fortunate. But having a view of a river like the Hudson and the skyline of Manhattan are wonderful vistas that command tremendous premiums in the residential marketplace. Multi-million dollar homes, condos and townhouses are situated on virtually all of the old industrial land in the town. Traffic issues today are one of the major concerns as the population has soared to over 8,000, but it has been a nice rebound for an old industrial town.

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