Those of you familiar with my weekly TV show Public Voice Salon, or who have read one of my past letters to this paper, might be aware of my passion for creating community. As an educator, crafting spaces where the “eye meets the eye” and all are welcome to share their stories continues to inform my teaching—whether it be in classrooms, on television, in dialogues I begin in cafes or on the sidewalk, or, most recently, as a business activist educating our friends in corporate America to care more about human beings and our natural world than a selfish focus on profits.
That being said, I believe Hoboken has certain unique qualities that make it more conducive to community than many other American cities. Such factors include its aesthetic and walkable streetscape (with beautiful architecture and nice parks); its diverse multicultural population; its world class university situated on a bucolic campus; anice assortment of cafes; the presence of artists, writers and other intellectuals; along with the Hoboken museum, a “best kept secret” which, in addition to its wonderful art gallery, continues to provide a sense of why Hoboken matters—to the nation and world—both historically and culturally.
Now for the bad news. I was saddened to see that Lana Santorelli, a NYC artist who opened a gallery near 7th and Washington Street a few years ago, has closed up and left town. My hope, when they first opened, was that Santorelli would spearhead an aesthetic and intellectual renaissance on Washington Street, with more and more galleries and cultural spaces opening up. With the notable exception of Beth Mason’s community Gallery 1200, sadly, no other flowering of the arts took place.
Moving ahead, how might we encourage other cultural venues on Hoboken’s main drag?—not marginalized off on the edge of town but in the joyful midst of things; part of a vibrant public sphere where people can say hello to their neighbors en route to an exhibition (or film or play); spilling out to enliven a local café with animated conversations afterward.
If such humanistic concerns were a normal part of public policy (as they ought to be) we’d see a lessoning of what social scientists call “atomization” or “alienation”: a sense of social fragmentation that discourages greeting a stranger and fosters a cold, lonely, sterile feeling in public places. In his book “Bowling Alone,” Robert Putnam says that the mental health of a community depends a lot on how many brief chats you can have, not with friends, but with acquaintances on the sidewalk. Hoboken is already far superior than most suburbs, or even many neighborhoods in NYC in this regard. But it could be better.
It would be nice to have a dialogue about this. Maybe at Symposia bookstore, one of the true bastions for caring community in Hoboken that we are blessed to have.Your reactions are welcome at email@example.com