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Group Hopes To Develop A Graffiti-Filled Version of the High Line In Jersey City

Images: so+so studio

A small group with big plans is looking to develop a neglected railway and open space in Jersey City to help transform the area into a “cultural corridor.” Green Villain, a local production company and self-described “placemaking organization,” wants to replicate the success of Manhattan’s High Line and apply it to the Bergen Arches and the Erie Cut.

“Our goal is to create awareness to a forgotten gem of Jersey City’s past and educate the public on its existence,” says Green Villain founder Greg Edgell, adding that they want to “spark a conversation about what can be done in an open green space and how it could benefit Jersey City.” They’ve enlisted a “team of architects, designers, scholars, community activists,” and recently released renderings as well as a website detailing the project.

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A bustling elevated railway when it was first completed in 1910, the historic Bergen Arches and Erie Cut were considered an engineering marvel at the time. In a New York Times article published the same year, here’s how the paper of record described the completion of the railroad link:

“Sunlight, whenever the weatherman permits, is going to shine for Erie commuters through the entire length of their ride from the Erie station in Jersey outward. The Bergen tunnel, under Jersey City Heights, through which passenger trains have run for forty years much to the discomfort of passengers, will be abandoned for half of the passenger traffic tomorrow, and by July 1 will be wholly given over to the movement of freight.”

Commuters at the time weren’t thrilled about traveling underground and so the completion of the elevated Bergen Arches was a big deal, as it allowed people to travel above ground. It took about four years for the Erie Railroad to blast through the 5,000 feet of rock to make the railway possible. This passageway is referred to as the Erie Cut and it would be developed along with the arches, according to the proposal: “A series of paths could explore the Erie Cut, sixty feet below the hustle and bustle of everyday life, through an elevated system of ramps and walkways that meander through the vegetation canopies, sculpture gardens, murals and more.”

The last train reportedly used the railway in 1959, and not long after was nearly forgotten. Like the High Line before it was renovated, the Bergen Arches have become overgrown and dilapidated. In addition to turning the Bergen Arches and Erie Cut into park-like areas, Green Villain — which also runs a gallery, mural program, record label and event company — hopes to punctuate the space with public art, which Edgell says is “pivotal” to the project. “The urban ecology is there in every sense,” Edgell tells Mass Appeal. “The organic taking back of the man-made structure and the evolution of art into that with graffiti coming from trains and then it existing in tunnels.” Included in the proposal are plans to have a rotating group of graffiti and street artists painting spaces peppered throughout the spaces.

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One of biggest obstacles to the massive undertaking is getting the word out and convincing the public that this is a worthwhile investment. Currently owned by NJ Transit and Conrail, Edgell says his group has put a rough value on property at around $50 million. Green Villain is looking to raise private funds to help cover the costs like they did for the High Line but is also realistic about why that space was funded in the first place.

“I understand we’re not Manhattan and the High Line only existed with private funding because of Manhattan and its importance,” says Edgell, “but Jersey City will be somewhere in the next 10-20 years and if this land is developed, not into something like this, it’ll be a tragedy.”

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