From the Record:
It’s not surprising that Englewood chose to name its high school for Dwight Morrow, a city resident who was a U.S. senator, an ambassador to Mexico and a powerful Wall Street banker. However, Morrow’s most enduring influence might have come through a position that doesn’t even rate a mention in his Wikipedia entry.
Morrow served on the influential 10-member committee that fashioned the 1929 “Regional Plan of New York and Its Environs,” the first master plan for any city or region in the country. That multivolume agenda became a seminal blueprint for the growth of New York City and the entire metropolitan area, and, in the eyes of many, codified the strategy that perpetuated the city’s role of dominance on the world scene.
As it turned out, by virtually laying out the structure of roads that serves as the region’s circulatory system and projected path of development, it also helped to create something unanticipated. Call it the City of North Jersey, the place we live and work in now.
The plan consisted of two parts: a highway system west of the Hudson and around New York City, and an economic transformation that turned New York City from an industrial-era engine comprising small manufacturers employing low-paid factory workers into a world-class city of concrete and glass office towers where banks, investment houses, insurance companies, real estate and legal firms did business and their mostly well-off workers lived.
These “clean” enterprises were the designated “highest and best uses” of the valuable real estate in Manhattan’s massive central business district. Spreading out from it in spokes and in concentric rings would be the highways — the plan paid scant attention to mass transit systems — that would filter factories and lower-priced residences through a megalopolis designed to serve Manhattan’s needs.
But a funny thing happened. North Jersey developed — in a big way, and pretty much according to the original highway design, tripling the population of the communities served by those highways since 1930.
The highway grid in the plan looks much the way it appears today: A big peripheral highway, 287; highways sprouting from one existing Hudson River crossing (the Holland Tunnel) and five anticipated crossings (three eventually became reality), Routes 4, 46, 208, 3 and 280, 80 and 95; and four north-south highways, the New Jersey Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway, Routes 17 and 9. Highways that fed into the George Washington Bridge and the Tappan Zee Bridge connected to the eastern half of the larger peripheral system that moved vehicular traffic around New York City.
North Jersey adopted its own version of “highest and best use.” Single-family housing soaked up blank spaces between the highway grid. Regional malls sprawled along the intersections. Midrise commercial buildings and hotels went up along the highways and in the Meadowlands. High-rise apartments came to Fort Lee, Hackensack and northern Hudson County.
Pretty soon, North Jersey had the looks of, well, a city. Not the dense, concrete-and-glass, high-rise prototype that identifies most of the world’s modern cities, but a hybrid that mixes those elements with the expansive, haphazard collection of housing, offices and malls typical of American suburbs.
To be sure, many pressures beyond the agenda of the 1929 plan pushed the development of the City of North Jersey. Already in place in 1930 were the industrial cities of Hudson, Bergen and Passaic counties. It was an era when Garfield was Bergen’s largest municipality, and Fairview was bigger than Paramus.
White flight, tax policies that favored home ownership over renting, the GI Bill and the rise of the automobile as the nation’s preferred form of mass transportation also encouraged the move out of the big cities to the more rural towns of North Jersey.
With the population growth, other development followed: Malls to sell merchandise to a ready and growing public; corporate headquarters to capitalize on a labor force unwilling to travel long distances for jobs (with lower real estate costs to boot for businesses). Between 1981 and 1986, Bergen County absorbed 13 million square feet of new office space, more than the 14 buildings of the original Rockefeller Center, completed a half-century earlier.