Finding North Jersey: Exploring Image and Identity
The thirteen counties of North Jersey comprise a special geographic place. Peopled with extraordinary achievers in business, professions, and the arts, most focus their attention on nearby Manhattan. With a population of more than six million, North New Jersey (NNJ) would rank 100th among nations, alongside Israel or Laos; its per capita income would rank NNJ among the richest nations in the world. For all that, the region’s self-perception is confused and uncertain. Common media images stress accounts of corruption, mob activity (The Sopranos), or bad behavior (Jersey Shore); little is being done to counter that negativity. This project aims to produce alternatives by reviewing the history, debating alternatives, and promoting a healthier, more positive identity.
Image vs. Identity
Image is how others perceive a person, entity, or community; identity is how a person, organization, or city perceives and presents itself to others. To project a positive image requires conviction of a positive identity. What are the good things about NNJ? Why do people that live here tend to love it? When we fully understand that we can change the prevailing, uncomplimentary image. That would be very advantageous for attracting and retaining the talent and youth that will determine the prosperity and health of the region in the future.
A major theme of the north Jersey story is social change and transformation. The shifts from an agricultural to an industrial and then to a post-industrial economy occurred here more quickly than in most of the county. Richard Florida’s “rise of the creative class” (2002) illustrates the latest step in the process. Educated, talented, and driven by goals of openness, collaboration, inclusiveness, and self-realization rather than materialism and competitiveness, the “creative” contingent appears to be less fully dedicated to the prevailing social-economic paradigm and more open to alternatives. This theory is compatible with David Brooks’ (2000) perceived “bourgeois bohemians,” a highly educated but mannerless new class of the children of the baby boomers. Testing these theories in the thinking and reality of North Jersey will be illustrative.
The identity of a person, or a company, or town, or region, begins with fully understanding its history. What are the major events, personalities, and forces determining today’s situation? One must understand this before good plans can be made for how to proceed. Discussions, surveys, and information gathering are a key to this necessary step in the process.
Finding North Jersey is a wide-ranging series of meetings, discussions, mini-conferences, and communication to gain significant input from the region on what options might be pursued to create and promote a meaningful and vital new identity for this dynamic but under-appreciated region.
Brooks, D. 2000. Bobos in Paradise : The New Upper Class and How They Got There.
New York: Simon and Schuster.
Florida, R. 2002. The Rise of the Creative Class. New York: Basic Books.