An ambitious rails-to-trails project aims to cement Jersey City's growing cultural reputation

Bergen Arches

An ambitious rails-to-trails project aims to cement Jersey City's growing cultural reputation

(Courtesy Bergen Arches)

A team of New Jersey– and Berlin-based designers is turning a hulking infrastructure relic in Jersey City into a catwalk-laced park that could serve as a model of community redevelopment.

More than a century ago, the Erie Railroad sliced a four-track-wide cut through the Palisades mountain range. The resulting Bergen Arches linked to the railroad’s Manhattan-bound main line along the banks of the Hudson, but when the railroad ceased operations in 1959, the arches were overtaken by forest and slowly forgotten.

Now, placemaking organization Green Villain is working with Berlin-based So + So Studio to reimagine the arches as sites of recreation. The impetus was Jersey City’s dizzying evolution from postindustrial New York City–adjacent afterthought to hip bedroom community that attracts artists priced out of New York, as well as finance types and regular people seeking urban life at a lower cost. In their project statement, the team hopes to spark conversation on land conservation in urban areas and provide recreation opportunities for Jersey City (JC) residents.

An archival photo of the railway arches. (Image via Jersey Digs)

“As our post-industrial city continues to amass mid to high-rise towers, it is imperative that we look down as much as we look up for the answers about individuality and place. The stick and steel will allow the residents to live here, Restaurant Row to eat here, but without Jersey City-centric projects that allow us to compete on the global stage we will always be haunted by the specter of placelessness. The Bergen Arches project is the answer. Help us to reclaim and revitalize these spaces that bear such history and call for a creative future for Jersey City.”

Green Villain, with offices in JC, Denver, and Berlin, is a hybrid organization that specializes in mural-making, JC real estate development, event production, and creating consulting in partnership with SMBs, developers, and brands to place-make through music, technology, and art.

Jersey Digs spoke with Green Villian’s Bill Benzon, as well as So + So Studio’s Kevin Driscoll and Rion Philbin, who outlined the site’s distinctive features, the importance of railroads in JC’s development, and the site’s potential for transformation.

The project’s first goal is to connect neighborhoods with two new cuts, including one that would allow people to access the Bergen Arches on elevated walkways that then descend up to 60 feet, revealing the site’s rich topology. Public art will augment the program to “boost Jersey City’s overall cultural reputation.”

Train your eyes on the Bergen Arches website and Instagram to pick up more information on this developing project.