[URBANTH-L] REV: Ebner on Gale, Greater New Jersey: Living in the Shadow of Gotham

Angela Jancius jancius at ohio.edu
Tue Nov 6 15:34:09 EST 2007

[Cross-posted from H-New-Jersey at h-net.msu.edu]

Dennis E. Gale. _Greater New Jersey: Living in the Shadow of Gotham_.
Metropolitan Portraits Series. Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 2006. xvii + 190 pp. Illustrations, maps, notes,
bibliography, index. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8122-3954-6.

Reviewed for H-New-Jersey by Michael H. Ebner, Department of History,
Lake Forest College

Delineating North Jersey

Here is a book with an inspired conception by way of assaying what it
terms "the Manhattan-North Jersey Axis" (p. 13). How many
authors---present company among them--have fleetingly mused upon the
prospect of writing a truly imaginative study about a topic whose
parameters are virtually uncharted? Fortunately for his readers,
Dennis Gale persevered. He gave literary life to an instinct rooted in
his very relocation from Washington, D.C. to the Newark campus of
Rutgers University, where he assumed a professorship. Moreover he
makes the concept of Greater New Jersey seem so eminently plausible.
That he does so in a manner that is at once innately modest yet
far-reaching in its ambitions has led this reader to appreciate why it
took so long for some enterprising author to write a book such as
this. The inter-state fault lines that Gale has expertly
mined--suggestive of the protracted scholarly journey recently
completed by the celebrated historical geographer D. W.
Meinig--provide a most bountiful yield.[1]

I have a hunch, tied to a question in play among cultural
anthropologists, about why Dennis Gale succeeded. Unquestionably this
is the work of an "outsider."[2] I surmise that the author commenced
his labors almost immediately after his arrival and before he became
immersed in the minutia of his new-found, culturally complicated
landscape. Hence he devised, as his working assumption, a big-picture
conception of how his book would unfold. To his credit he never
allowed himself to become ensnared by what the late Alan J.
Karcher--politician turned historian--so aptly classified as New
Jersey's "multiple municipal madness."[3]

Underscoring Gale's unique mental map of the state's northeastern
counties is the device he uses to open his book: a one-hour journey on
a commuter train that transported him from Morristown to Penn Station
in Manhattan. Long ago a historian of transportation, the venerable
Wheaton J. Lane, understood that New Jersey merited the label of "the
great transit state."[4] Wonderfully rendered railway scenes in the
early pages of _Greater New Jersey_ furnish Gale's methodological
metaphor: avoid casting one's gaze unendingly upon any single location
before moving on to either another place or, better yet, to an
altogether different conceptual prism. Anyone aspiring to write about
the urban history of New Jersey, especially on a macro scale, should
be mindful of his approach.

By its very nature this book--the sixth of the University of
Pennsylvania Press's "Metropolitan Portraits"--is more impressionistic
than exhaustive. When Gale raises the issue of New Jersey's
megalopolitan circumstances, to cite one especially pertinent
instance, he invokes globalized vantage points--Hong Kong, Seoul,
Paris, and Rio de Janeiro--that appropriately expand our geographic
sensibilities. (Admittedly this is of a different magnitude from
conventional comparisons that might encompass Bayonne, Elizabeth,
Hackensack, Passaic, and Perth Amboy.) Readers also find themselves
immersed in abbreviated but well-turned narratives on divergent topics
essential to this book's scope and texture. Among them: the Port
Authority of New York and New Jersey; the ramifications of 9/11; the
suburban culture of Montclair; the natural history of the region; the
cultural landscape of journalism as well as media; professional sports
franchises; the underworld; the machine politics of Hudson County;
political corruption (including a detailed six-page compendium of
convictions between 1990 and 2005); and the embittered contemporary
cleavage over immigration that has divided residents of Morristown.

Gale's case study on Newark--historically the largest city in New
Jersey--focuses exclusively on its contemporary history, starting in
1967. To amplify his argument the author might have made more of the
entirety of its twentieth-century urban history and in particular the
noble--albeit unrealistic--aspiration of Louis L. Bamberger. Owner of
his family department store from 1892 until 1929, Bamberger disdained
Manhattan, and nurtured Newark as an alternative cultural and
commercial center.[5] To make the city a center of learning, Bamberger
also favored permanently locating the Institute for Advanced
Study--whose founding he underwrote and which was ultimately built in
Princeton--either in Newark or in an adjacent suburb.[6]

By the late nineteenth century, Newark had grown increasingly complex,
contravening Bamberger's ideal, as a consequence of its
industrialization. Abysmal hygienic conditions tied to its
manufacturing economy burdened it with an unwanted label--bestowed by
the Census Bureau in 1890--as the nation's unhealthiest city.[7]
Entering the new century it already teemed with new-stock Americans
whose diverse Old World cultures surely appeared all but
incomprehensible to long-established residents. The industrial work
force further multiplied during the mobilization caused by World War
I, making Newark a choice destination for African Americans seeking
economic and political opportunity. In 1930 the city attained its
all-time-high population mark--442,377 (10 percent African
American)--ranking eighteenth among the nation's cities. But from the
beginning of the century a suburban exodus, tied to Newark's density,
had begun. The Bambergers joined the migrants, moving to an estate in
South Orange that they eventually donated to Seton Hall University.
Newark's proportion of Essex County's population subsequently
diminished: from 69 percent in 1900 to 64 percent in 1920 and 51
percent in 1940. Ethnic and racial conflicts magnified the city's
demographic segmentation. The resurgent Ku Klux Klan, directing its
focus toward Catholics and Jews as well as African Americans in its
most recent guise, established a Newark chapter in 1922 with a
membership of 2,000.[8]

I would suggest that matters of proportionality and scale--see Gale's
excellent analysis, evocatively entitled "Crustal
Urbanization"--shaped the cultural geography of greater New Jersey. In
his masterful study of New Haven, Douglas W. Rae underscored the
powerful economic reach of New York City, dubbing that metropolis "the
tarantula at the center of the manufacturing and financial web that
was American capitalism."[9] Take the year 1900: the population of
Manhattan alone, to rely upon Professor Gale's prism, stood at 1.85
million (comparable to Berlin, then the world's fourth largest city).
Newark's totaled 246,000. Manhattan's population still would have
qualified it as the nation's largest city in 1900, with second-ranked
Chicago at 1.7 million. One might wonder if it ever had represented
fair measure to balance Newark on the very scale whose counterweight
was Manhattan.[10] What is undeniable is this: in Newark, at least
until the Great Depression, it amounted to something akin to civic
ritual for its leaders--inspired to a considerable degree by Louis
Bamberger--to perpetuate this far-fetched comparison.

A further point worthy of contemplation has to do with New Jersey's
population history. It comprises a recipe for hyper-concentration
consisting of three ingredients: the state's small physical scale; the
very high levels of density in its cities; and the constrained,
frozen-in-time boundaries of its municipal entities.[11] An effort to
significantly expand the boundaries of Newark, surely inspired by the
formation of Greater New York City, had failed by 1905.[12] Edmund
Wilson, writing in 1922 and with his geographic sensibilities very
much influenced by his then-recent undergraduate experiences at
Princeton University, darkly characterized the state as "moribund from
the point of view of the cities."[13] Clement Alexander Price, in his
history of Newark, pinpoints how physical constraints proved elemental
in exacerbating the quest for one of humankind's most basic
requirements: "While there were many sources of instability, the most
important between 1890 and 1920 was the limitation of space--Newark
was unable to house its working-class residents."[14]

Consider census data for the cities of New Jersey from 1910, to cite a
year when data on square mileage is easily accessible. Newark's
physical scale was the largest (23.2) and Hoboken's the smallest
(1.3); the mean was 8.5 for the nine locales within New Jersey listed
among the nation's one hundred largest cities. Newark was the nation's
fourteenth largest city and Jersey City ranked nineteenth. When we
average the square mileage for the ten cities--including the two
within New Jersey--between numbers eleven (Milwaukee) and twenty
(Kansas City), the mean equaled 62 square miles or almost three times
greater than Newark's. If we also measure population density for 1910
among the nine cities within New Jersey they outdistanced their
counterparts. Jersey City registered almost 20,600 persons per square
mile and Newark's statistic was nearly 15,000. The average for the ten
cities in the national cohort ranking eleven through twenty was
slightly under 8,900. Looking solely at all of the cities within New
Jersey among the nation's top one hundred as of 1910, their mean
density exceeded 18,100. Hoboken surpassed 54,000 (70,000 inhabitants
within a municipality consisting of 1.3 square miles).[15]

Further questions surface. Do these density calculations enable us to
comprehend New Jersey's narrowness of vision that readily translates
into the tradition of arch localism that pervades its political
culture? Did these reverberations become even more exaggerated within
Newark as a consequence of its distinctive cultural complexity? And
was not all of this reminiscent of the misgivings playing in the mind
of James Madison (a Virginian educated in Princeton)--drawing on
Enlightenment thinkers opining upon the perils of factions within the
densely inhabited polities of the young republican nation--when he
gave himself over to the himself to the task of drafting the federal

Extending this story line into the second half of the twentieth
century, we encounter the mournful transformation of Newark that
Professor Gale explicates for readers in one of his case studies. The
conflagration in July of 1967--commonly categorized as somewhere
between an upheaval, a riot, and an insurrection--dominates this
narrative in the final third
of the twentieth century. Some thirty years later when an
anthropologist conducted ethnographic research in Newark it remained a
milestone in its history that reappeared as sharply etched within the
memories recalled by some of her informants.[17] Conversely, social
historians trace the roots of what transpired during 1967 back more
than a century to the city's industrial origins before the Civil
War.[18] Frequently mentioned when assayed from this extended temporal
plane are: successive waves of demographic transformations; cultural
cleavages that manifested sustained political conflicts; elevated
density levels; and much more recently the combined ramifications of
de-industrialization, de-population, and physical deterioration. A
survey assessing American cities published by _Harper's_ magazine in
1975 issued Newark a baleful citation: the worst of all. It occupied
last place in nine of the twenty-four analytic categories. Behind it,
in rank order, were St.
Louis, Chicago, and Detroit.[19]

While Newark remained the largest city in New Jersey, its national
population rank dropped precipitously between 1950 and 2000 from
twenty-first to sixty-fourth. The half-century loss amounted to
165,230. This also contributed significantly to Essex County's
displacement in 1990 by Bergen County as the leader in population
among New Jersey's twenty-one counties. Essex lost more residents
(-73,098) than any county during the 1980s, but Newark (-53,072)
accounted for three-quarters of the decline; its loss of residents
also far exceeded any other city statewide during this decade, with
Hoboken a distant second (-9,063). Moreover as of 2000, Jersey
City--long ranked second statewide--only trailed Newark in population
by 33,500; fifty years earlier the difference had been nearly 140,000.
Over the fifty years ending in 2000 the population of Newark declined
by 165,230 as contrasted with Jersey City's decrease of 59,000. Jersey
City also gained population during the 1980s and again in the 1990s
whereas Newark registered continuous decreases since1950.[20]

Correspondingly the African American population of the Newark reached
its zenith. At mid-century, one-third of the nation's African American
population resided in the northeast; by contrast, in 1900 nine of
every ten African Americans had resided in southeastern states. Within
Newark the number reached 207,500 as of 1970, accounting for 54
percent of its total population--the first time blacks comprised a
majority. Among the nation's biggest cities, the proportion of
Newark's black population was largest. Immediately behind were: Gary,
Indiana (53 percent); Detroit (44 percent), Cleveland (38 percent),
Philadelphia (34 percent); and
Chicago (33 percent).[21]

But most compelling of all is the fact that on a metropolitan scale
Newark was balkanized--a term added to our glossary by the demographer
William H. Frey--whether measured demographically or economically.
Within Essex County we encounter suburban Essex Fells, ranking sixth
statewide in per capita income, $53,363 as of 1989. Juxtapose its
circumstances with the New Jersey's ten lowest-ranked municipalities,
whose median per capita income was $10,159; Newark placed fifth from
last ($9,424) and Camden ranked last ($7,276).[22] Thinking about
communities so strikingly divergent as Essex Fells and
Newark--separated by a mere twelve miles--enables us to fix
northeastern New Jersey upon a larger canvas that exemplifies the
close geographic proximity of glitter amid despair that embodies the
American dual metropolis.[23]

Robert N. Wilentz, who contributed immeasurably to recasting the
contours of public policy in New Jersey during his tenure as chief
justice (1979-1995), sounded a forlorn note in June of 1991 as he
contemplated the consequences of its social geography. From the high
bench he had unflinchingly spearheaded an assault upon judicially
sanctioned, racially exclusionary zoning embodied in the benchmark
case of _Lionshead Lake v. Township of Wayne_ (1953). In his
much-debated 216-page opinion in the "Mount Laurel II" case (1983)
Wilentz sought to undermine the deadening hand of local autonomy in
the state. But in this instance the setting was not an opinion
rendered by Wilentz with the authority of the New Jersey Supreme
Court. Rather the chief justice addressed a graduation ceremony at
Rutgers School of Law in Newark. Whatever the audience might have
anticipated as appropriate to this celebration, the tenor of the
commencement speech surely caused a measure of discomfort for some and
seldom-heard words of consolation for others. Imagining a contemporary
map of New Jersey, Wilentz characterized its communities as "a
collection of islands." The speech then raised a problematic question
for the new lawyers and their admiring well-wishers: "Our separateness
is frightening...How can a society be happy when its two major
components--white and black--don't work with each other, and cannot
even truly understand each other?"[24]

So it is geography that stands paramount to our understanding of the
fragmented cultural landscape that comprises "Greater New Jersey."
Dennis Gale enables readers to comprehend how its inhabitants
conducted--and occasionally revised at key junctures such as the
epochal events of 1967 in Newark--their lives within the
Manhattan-North Jersey Axis. Whether singularly or operating in
tandem, racial, ethnic, and class forces imposed their influence upon
this cleverly constructed artifice. But more than any other book about
New Jersey that I have encountered, Gale's helps us to comprehend how
the accrual of historical baggage shaped so distinctive a form and
texture of an inter-state regional geography. The cumulative
consequences have influenced, and in some instances manifestly
re-ordered, the multiple choices made by people on a day-to-day basis:
where to purchase basic household foodstuffs or supplies; where to
purchase soft as well as durable goods; where to seek health care;
where to enjoy a film or a live performance; where to attend a
sporting event; where to worship, and, ultimately, where to reside and
educate children.[25] Contemplated in total, the decisions that people
formulated manifested themselves in the purposeful erection of
"invisible fences"--a term Kenneth T. Jackson introduced with northern
New Jersey very much in his thoughts--that themselves amount to a
defining characteristic of contemporary metropolitan America.[26]


[1]. D. W. Meinig, _The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective
on 500 Years of History_, 4 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press,

[2]. Donald A. Messerschmidt, ed. _Anthropologists at Home: Methods
and Issues in the Study of One's Own Society_ (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1981).

[3]. Alan J. Karcher, _New Jersey's Multiple Municipal Madness_ (New
Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1998).

[4]. Wheaton J. Lane, _From Indian Trail to Iron Horse: Travel and
Transportation in New Jersey, 1690-1860_ (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton
University Press, 1939), 10-11.

[5]. John E. O'Connor and Charles F. Cummings, "Bamberger's Department
Store, _Charm Magazine_, and the Culture of Consumption in New
Jersey," _New Jersey History_ 102 (1984): 1-34; and Maxine N. Lurie
and Marc Mappen, eds., _The Encyclopedia of New Jersey_ (New
Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2004), 52-53 and 560-565.

[6]. Laura Smith Porter, "From Intellectual Sanctuary to Social
Responsibility: The Founding of the Institute for Advanced Study,
1930-1933" (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1988), 159-62.

[7]. Stuart Galishoff, _Newark, the Nation's Unhealthiest City,
1832-1895_ (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1988).

[8]. Paul A. Stellhorn, "Boom, Bust, and Boosterism: Attitudes,
Residency, and the Newark Chamber of Commerce, 1920-1941," in _Urban
New Jersey since 1870_, ed. William C. Wright (Trenton: New Jersey
Historical Commission, 1975), 46-77; Clement A. Price, "The
Beleaguered City as Promised Land: Blacks in Newark, 1917-1947," in
_Urban New Jersey since 1870_, 11; Kenneth T. Jackson, _The Ku Klux
Klan and the City, 1915-1930_ (New York: Oxford University Press,
1967), 178; and Lizabeth Cohen, _A Consumers' Republic: The Politics
of Mass Consumption in Postwar America_ (New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
2003), 176.

[9]. Douglas W. Rae, _The City, Urbanism and Its End_ (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 2003), 66. Also see D. W. Meinig, _The Shaping of
America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History_ (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 301.

[10]. Kenneth T. Jackson, "The Capital of Capitalism: The New York
Metropolitan Region, 1890-1940," in _Metropolis, 1890-1940_, ed.
Anthony Sutcliffe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 31-

[11]. Bruce Bahrenberg, "New Jersey's Search for Identity," _Harpers_
228 (April, 1964): 94; and Karcher, _New Jersey's Multiple Municipal

[12]. Richardson Dilworth, _The Urban Origins of Suburban Autonomy_
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005), 171-93; and Joel
Schwartz, "Suburban Progressivism in the 1890s: The Policy of
Containment in Orange, East Orange, and Montclair," in _Cities of the
Garden State: Essays in the Urban and Suburban History of New Jersey_,
ed. Joel Schwartz and Daniel Prosser (Dubuque: Kendall-Hunt
Publishers, 1977), 64-66.

[13]. Edmund Wilson, Jr., "New Jersey: The Slave of Two Cities," _The
Nation_ 114 (June 14, 1922): 714.

[14]. Price, "The Beleaguered City," 11. Bringing this further into
the twentieth century are Kevin Mumford, "Double V in New Jersey:
African American Civic Culture and Rising Consciousness Against Jim
Crow, 1938-1946, " _New Jersey History_ 119, nos. 3-4 (2001): 22-56;
and Cohen, _A Consumers' Republic_, 175-80.

[15]. Campbell Gibson, "Population of the 100 Largest Cities and Other
Urban Places in the United States: 1790-1990," _Population Division
Working Paper # 27_ (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Bureau of the Census,
1998) and http://www.census.gov/population/www/cen2000/phc-t5.html
[accessed May 8, 2007] provides 2000 census ranking data for
incorporated cities with populations greater than 100,000.
Incomparable on this subject is: John E. Bebout and Ronald J. Grele,
_Where Cities Meet: The Urbanization of New Jersey_ (Princeton, N. J.:
D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1964).

[16]. Gerald E. Frug, _City Making: Building Communities without
Building Walls_ (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1999),
42-45. Frug expands the ramifications of this discussion in his
invaluable "Beyond Regional Government," _Harvard Law Review_ 115, no.
7 (May 2002): 1763-1836.

[17]. Sherry B. Ortner, _New Jersey Dreaming: Capital, Culture, and
the Class of '58_ (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 2-4, 72, 276,
and 295 note 4. Ortner's focus was not the events of 1967 but rather
the recollections and reflections gleaned from her classmates about
their experiences as students at Weequahic High School, from which the
author had graduated in 1958.

[18]. Kenneth T. Jackson, "July 12, 1967--Days of Rage: The Life and
Death of Newark, New Jersey," in _Days of Destiny: Crossroads in
American History_, ed. James M. McPherson and Alan Brinkley (New York:
D. K. Publishing, 2001), 418-439; and Stanley B. Winters, ed., _From
Riot to Recovery, Newark after Ten Years_ (Washington, D.C.:
University Press of America, 1979).

[19]. Arthur M. Louis, "The Worst American City: A Scientific Study to
Confirm or Deny Your Prejudices," _Harper's_ (January 1975): 67-71.

[20]. Statistical data for this paragraph is drawn from the census
compilations cited in note 17 as well as _New Jersey Population
Trends, 1790 to 2000_ (Trenton: New Jersey State Data Center, 2001),
25 (Table 5).

[21]. D. W. Meinig, _The Shaping of America: A Geographical
Perspective on 500 Years of History, Vol. 4, Global America,
1915-2000_ (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 180, 225-227.

[22]. William H. Frey, "The New Geography of Population Shifts: Trends
toward Balkanization," in _State of the Union--America in the 1990s,
Vol. 2, Social Trends_, ed. Reynold Farley (New York: Russell Sage,
1995), 271-334; and James W. Hughes and George Sternlieb, _Rutgers
Regional Report, Vol. 1: Job, Income, Population, and Housing
Baselines_ (New Brunswick: Rutgers, The State University of New
Jersey, 1989), 46-48. And for an important discussion of Newark's
balkanization refer to Cohen, _A Consumer's Republic_, 194-256.

[23]. Provocatively re-conceptualizing the American metropolis is
Peter Marcuse, "The Ghetto of Exclusion and the Fortified Enclave: New
Patterns in the United States," _American Behavioral Scientist_ 41,
no. 3 (November/December, 1997): 311-326. Marcuse updates, to the
final years of the twentieth century, the specter of people striving
to fashion metropolitan lives on sociological islands apart from
everyday realities, a notion first explicated in the context of the
Industrial Revolution by Robert H. Wiebe in _The Search for Order,
1877-1920_ (New York: Hill & Wang, 1967), 44. William Julius Wilson,
_When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor_ (New York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 1996); and Douglas S. Massey and Nancy A. Denton,
_American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass_
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993) are paramount for
comprehending the ramifications of the dual metropolis.

[24]. Robert N. Wilentz, "Commencement Address-Rutgers University
School of Law, Newark," _Rutgers Law Review_ 49, no. 3 (Spring 1997):
1064. David Kuzma, Special Collections and University Archives at
Rutgers University-New Brunswick, tracked down this important but
elusive article and I am most grateful to him for his kindness. To
learn more about Robert N. Wilentz and Mount Laurel II refer to Maxine
N. Lurie and Marc Mappen, eds., _The Encyclopedia of New Jersey_ (New
Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2004), 548 and 873, as well as
David L. Kirp et al., _Our Town: Race, Housing, and the Soul of
Suburbia_ (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1995), 112-136.

[25]. Evoking such sentiments are _Divided Cities in a Global Economy:
The 1992 European-North American State-of-the Cities Report_
(Washington, D.C.: German Marshall Fund of the United States, 1992),
ii. Expanding on this insightful document are Neal R. Peirce, Curtis
H. Johnson and John Stuart Hall, _Citistates: How Urban America Can
Prosper in a Competitive World_ (Washington, D.C.: Seven Locks Press,
1993), 299-300; and Derek Bok, _The State of the Nation, Government
and the Quest for a Better Society_ (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1996), 113.

[26]. Kenneth T. Jackson, "Gentlemen's Agreement: Discrimination in
Metropolitan America," in _Reflections on Regionalism_, ed. Bruce Katz
(Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2000), 186; refer also
to Frug, _City Making_, 43.

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