Political leaders in Bayonne have long wanted the isolated peninsula city to become a “destination,” which will attract outsiders and real estate investors, and where new residents and businesses will move. Through this effort, Bayonne has also fostered what a 2010 Knight Foundation study calls “place attachment” for residents already living here.
That study, called the “Soul of the Community,” found that the three things most likely to inspire attachment are things to do, attractive aesthetics surroundingin which to do them, and an inclusive environment. These metrics are different from what generally is thought to influence home purchasing decisions – schools, police, and cost of living.
Bayonne’s local government, in partnership with local businesses and organizations, has been proactive in fostering greater place attachment in recent years by increasing the volume and quality of community events.
The annual Bergen Point Fall Festival, for instance, has been growing every year and has attracted hundreds to Broadway in the Bergen Point neighborhood. The Hometown Fair, which was defunct for years, is back. More frequent now are parades, charity walks, community clean-ups, museum events, plays, farmers markets, educational seminars, and concerts, like the Summer Sounds series at 16th Street Park.
“We’ve been really to starting to achieve greater community engagement,” said Mayor James Davis, who has stated on many occasions that one of his primary goals is to get people out of the house and interacting with neighbors. “We’re at the point where people are walking up to me asking when the next event is and giving us ideas. It’s amazing at what can be accomplished by including everyone.”
The Bayonne Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ), which encompasses most of Broadway,has been central to building place attachment while fostering business growth. Last year, the UEZ coordinated with local musicians, restaurants, and small businesses on Broadway to start its “Music on Broadway” series, which features live music at various participating local businesses on Friday nights.
“We want new and old residents to say, ‘Wow, what a nice shopping district. Look at all these fun events and new businesses,’” said UEZ spokesperson, Dee Dee Bottino. “We want them to shop here, dine here, and basically not have dollars leave town.” She is focused on getting a diverse range of small businesses to open on Broadway that can cater to the needs of residents, especially families.
“There are more and more specialty businesses opening up that we haven’t had before,” she said. “It helps the community as a whole.”
The city’s motivations are consistent with findings in the “Soul of the Community” study, which found that communities with greater place attachment tended to see greater local GDP growth, which measures not only local business success, but the ability of a local economy to grow and meet the needs of residents. When residents enjoy what their community offers, they are more likely to spend their money at local businesses and activities,thus growing the local economy.
Local artists recently painted seven utility and fireboxes in Bergen Point and a mural on the light rail bridge that once featured a Burger King advertisement. The UEZ, in partnership with the Bridge Art Gallery, facilitated the renewed streetscape. Plans to also introduce statues and extend the beautified streetscape north on Bayonne are underway. “Our focus is to beautify the area to attract new people and businesses,” Bottino said.
The art pieces not only beautify the neighborhood and prevent vandalism, but add an individual flavorto a community that cannot be replicated.
“It definitely makes me feel more attached to this city,” said Franklin Belgrade, 30, who moved to Bayonne from Seattle recently. “These aren’t for social media, they’re for us, people in the community. I never even knew that these things were called utility boxes until now. But they’re not boxes anymore. They’re works of art.”
Out of curiosity, Elaine Smith, 78, was running her hand across a photographic painting by Stephanie Petersen on a fire alarm box outside the Bayonne Community Museum. “I think it’s some kind of sticker. Oh, that’s an iron horse locomotive,” she said,unsure of how long the firebox has been that way. “It’s odd, but it’s sharp. It looks great. I think people my age will appreciate it.”
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.