THE ‘BOKEN TO THE BURBS: A Cautionary Farewell
By Walter Sackett
I write to you as one of the many faceless, nameless individuals you see this time of year. You know the type: a moving truck clogs a narrow Hoboken street; a late thirtysomething awkwardly tries to lift a box that is way too heavy. So is this person coming or going? Hmm, those two look sad, and their kids look pretty old. They must be going. I wonder what they sold their place for? Let’s pull up realtor.com…
First, a bit of background. In a lot of ways, my wife and I are stereotypical ‘new Hoboken’. We grew up on the other side of the river, with no ties to the town or the Garden State. We lived in Manhattan for a decade, but then we started having kids, needed some space, and wanted to own. We didn’t have a Brooklyn itch at all, but we were also admittedly not that excited about crossing the Hudson. The usual concerns generally boiled down to the following: what if every day in Hoboken was like St. Patrick’s Day in Hoboken?
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But we liked the housing prices, the overall (highly relative) affordability, and the idea of experiencing normal adult human being things such as driving and parking a car, playing tennis without a special permit, and bringing a toddler to a restaurant without receiving hipster death stares. Eventually, we saw a great apartment on a sunny day, and took it as the tiebreaker.
At first, this was a partnership of convenience. Our families would complain about the bridges and tunnels; we heard about people quickly leaving town for the suburbs. We also worried about the quality of the public schools. All things considered, we were happy for sure, but viewed our residence as temporary.
But then a few things started to happen. First, my wife and I met some new people. We had a head start because of some NYC friends who had already made the move, but we inevitably started spending more time with other young families in midtown. We hung out at Church Square Park together; we chased our kids during church services; we followed each other through back-to-back birthday parties at Pump It Up; we complained about that local family-owned store that turned into Anthropologie.
These encounters, like the move itself, also began as matters of convenience. But slowly, the park sessions turned into park, then pizza, then more park, and then a beer at Moran’s before bath time. We started watching each other’s kids in a pinch. Eventually, we graduated to full-on grown-up nights out, group trips, etc. Before we knew it, we had real, actual friends.
We also came to the realization that Hoboken is truly cool, in its own unique way. Hoboken is both a town and a neighborhood, with a strong and universal sense of pride. It is not like a section of Jersey City or Brooklyn, bounded by a highway or park. Sure, there is uptown versus downtown, strollers versus sweatpants. But everything is a short, safe walk or bike ride, whether you are at the Monroe Center for an art class, or Mama Johnson’s for soccer, or Wilton House for a cold Bud bottle with Jack the bartender at 10 in the morning (not me, but a friend of mine did that once). Wherever you are, you are in Hoboken.
We also discovered the non-fist pumping side of the Jersey Shore. We would even go so far as to say that we were visiting Asbury Park before all of Hoboken discovered it. That is mostly a lie, and Asbury still has a solid decade of legitimate coolness left. But we were there, like, sort of first.
Beyond the beach, our family discovered what New Jersey had to offer. We explored the treasures of the fairy forest in Millburn; our daughter threw jelly on counselors at the Girl Scout camp in West Orange; and our kids learned to ski at Campgaw Mountain in Mahwah. This was further exacerbating our problem: we were starting to lay down some serious roots. I no longer felt compelled to say ‘I don’t live in New Jersey, I live in Hoboken’.
And perhaps most importantly, our family was having a fantastic experience with Hoboken Public Schools. The teachers and administrators cared and were highly qualified; the parents were engaged and inviting; and the kids were an entertaining mix of countries and life backgrounds. When you put it all together, HPS had a lot to give, and it blew away our expectations.
Of course, our parents and out-of-town friends still grumbled about the bridges and tunnels. And people still left for the suburbs. But we sort of just stopped paying attention, because we were having too much fun in our new hometown. We even took a very serious look at staying long-term.
But here we are, boxes in hands, off to the suburbs. Yes, we are part of the problem. But it is with a far heavier heart than we could have ever imagined. Why can’t we get sick of this place?
Which brings me to this letter. I am offering this as a public service. Maybe you have just arrived in town, newborn in tow; maybe you are on a day trip from Manhattan, meeting a realtor. A few thoughts:
- It is only going to get better here. It will happen slowly, but it is definitely happening. Restaurants, stores, culture – if you are looking for ‘real city’ living, we are starting to give a few of those boroughs a run for their money. Jersey City is already there.
- At the same time, it may also get worse here. Gentrification creates winners and losers. Please check out the St. Ann’s Festival, or the Memorial Day Parade, or pretty much any day at the Elks’ Club or at Piccolo’s (est. 1955) on Clinton Street. Enjoy these while you can, and get to know the people who have lived in this town for generations. They are a big part of what Hoboken special.
- On that note, you may see packs of loud, young teenagers with red-and-white sports gear playing basketball in the park. Maybe these kids look a bit intimidating, and they probably swear too often. But grab a ball and shoot around with them; they are good kids and welcome the company. And if you need proof, go check out a football or basketball game at Hoboken High School to see how the hard work pays off.
- The schools are good. Trust me. As your kids get older, you will have to make a more personal decision. But please, if you move here, start your kids in HPS.
- And if you need any final coaxing, remember you are as close to Manhattan as Brooklyn Heights, and you can live here for literally half the cost. Is Brooklyn twice as cool? Why do you care?
Should you make the wise choice to move to Hoboken, the arc of life and parenthood may take you back out of town, as is the case with our family. It is certainly getting harder to leave; but if you do so, you’ll be mighty glad you stopped by. And don’t forget to hit up that new Anthropologie on the way out, you suburban wussbag.