In my last piece we took a look at Van Vorst Park in Jersey City, NJ and why it is a great park that works. Today we will look at some greenspace that does not work. Here is Maxwell Place Lawn in Hoboken, NJ;
Unlike the greenspace around a strip mall, the developers gave this a name in an attempt to make it a place that people use. They called it a “lawn”. Maxwell Place Lawn. Unfortunately, in my two years of living a block from Maxwell Place Lawn, and frequently walking past it to get to the waterfront, and only once did I see somebody out there sunbathing. The lawn otherwise sits unutilized.
Unlike Van Vorst Park, which was is divided into separate areas, no two the same, with fountains, a playground, grilling area, a gazebo, a children's garden, and dozens, if not more, varieties of plants - which all comes together to hold your curiosity and encourage you to explore, people watch, or read a good book..
..Maxwell Place Lawn is just a flat open area of lawn. There are a few benches around the outside, if you are ever in the mood to just sit there and look at lawn.
Now, lawns make a good place for playing sports. But..
..no “organized or team-oriented sports.” Bummer.
Maxwell Place Lawn is just dead greenspace, consuming labor, money, and oil to keep manicured. The lawn is privately owned, and it exists because the buildings surrounding it are part of a large development, so the developer had to throw in some “open space” to get it approved. But, usually when you force someone to do something against their will, in this case to check off a box to get their development approved, they do a mediocre job of it. Now this area does not have a shortage of good parks;
Right next door is Elysian Park. It’s beautiful. Anytime the weather is slightly nice, it is full of children. You would not believe so many children live up in this corner of Hoboken unless you visited this park on a nice day.
On the other side of Maxwell Place Lawn is Maxwell Place Park. I come here to lay on the lawn under a shady tree and read a book all the time. Also full of people, even when the weather isn’t nice.
Having access to quality parks and nature is really important. But, there are three points to be made here;
- An under-utilized patch of lawn is not a quality park. Underutilized spaces in urban areas are dangerous, as their lack of activity offers no deterrent to crime.
- There is no shortage of quality parks in this area. Too much open space can be harmful if there is not enough activity to fill it with, as it can leave it dangerously underutilized (above point.)
- When we force a private owner to use their land in a very unproductive manner, they do a mediocre job of it.
We are great at building parks. Hoboken has two parks (the Southwest Park and the Northwest Park) under construction. The quality of our public parks is really good. I live close to Maxwell Place Lawn, and this is a fully built up urban area where our land is our most valuable resource, so it frustrates me when I see wasted dead space. I would have rather seen the developer put this land to productive use by developing on it, or selling it off to someone who can.