Residents have noticed statues springing up throughout the city that were installed as part of the Bayonne Urban Enterprise Zone’s initiative to beautify the Broadway corridor. You often see passersby posing and taking photos with the statues. If the statue is holding up a hand, it gets a high-five from a friendly human. Others share photos as memes online, replacing a statue’s head with a “crying Jordan,” or a friend’s face; the friend is inevitably tagged in the post.
Except for a jaguar, ready to pounce, across from the diner on 57th Street, the statues are depicted doing ordinary things that residents could see themselves doing. A boy and girl sit on a bench outside of Horace Mann School, a cheerleader shakes her pom-poms in midtown, a young girl releases a bird in Bergen Point while another reads a book. These are some of the statues that are calling Bayonne home.
The city’s expressed goal is to make Bayonne a more attractive and interesting destination for shopping and dining. But artwork and statues have a larger cultural effect than enhanced local commerce.
After a decade of inactivity on Broadway, the statues and artwork represent to Bayonne residents evidence of shared pride in their hometown. They interact with the statues and the artwork. One statue in front of the post office on 26th Street depicts a man seated on half of a bench. Pedestrians can be seen sitting next to him posing for pictures. In one photo, a resident made bunny ears behind the statue’s head, as if to embarrass it. Others perch hats on his head.
“I was sitting next to the statue before. Everyone thought I was one, too,” said Wes Woj, a Vietnam veteran. The post office statue was wearing a red beret. “I think he had a different hat on before, but I think someone stole it. I guess they put a new one on.”
“During my 50-plus years living in Bayonne, I had never seen anything like these. I like that people are having fun with them, and I think they bring a bit of class to the town,” said Angela Pagano. “I especially like the girl on the bench reading her book. Anyone who sees this will stop and think and instantly create a story in their mind. What is she reading? Is it a love story, spy novel or some other required reading for school? Why is she on the bench? Is the day so beautiful that she wanted to enjoy the sun?”
But there will always be cynics. “I guess there’s a certain appeal to them, but they’re just there,” said Paul Rigos, who is skeptical about whether the initiative will succeed.“If people are coming to Broadway to see them and patronizing local businesses it would speak more to their overall value.”
“The goal of this program is to make Broadway a more attractive, fun place for shopping and dining,” said Mayor James Davis in a press release.“Promoting Broadway as an interesting destination for consumers is good for our local small businesses.”
“During my 50-plus years living in Bayonne, I had never seen anything like these.” – Angela Pagano
The art of the UEZ
The initiative to beautify the Broadway corridor began last spring, when the UEZ commissioned artists to paint utility boxes, fire boxes, and empty walls. The project not only made the area a little prettier and more interesting but helped to mitigate vandalism. It turns out that people are much less likely to graffiti a piece of art than a grey utility box. Funds for the project were provided, in part, by the Hudson County Office of Cultural Affairs.
The upgrading of Bayonne’s streetscapes is taking place in one of 27 designated Urban Enterprise Zones across the state, which were instituted in 1983. Their main draw is a 50-percent reduction in sales tax, ideally to lower costs for consumers while allowing for more business overall. To participate in the UEZ Program, businesses have to be certified by the program, be in tax compliance, and be registered within one of the 27 designated zones.
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at email@example.com.