Chapter 2: New Jersey – Tomorrowland
THE SEAFOOD COUNTER alone is world class. Even in the New York area, an emporium grabs one's attention when, for eighty linear feet, it spreads out not only six different kinds of sliced octopus—fresh—but snow crab legs next to broiled eel near Chilean abalone next to geoduck sashimi, adjacent to a display of spiny sea urchins with golden, creamy, sensuous interiors intended to be eaten raw.
The fashion plaza, too, is dazzling. Amid cascades of gold and stacks of high couture, a mannequin sports a sexy red jogging suit with this precise mystery across its chest: "Don't Take It Easy: To Be Frank With You I'm Afraid of You at First But, Now Become Changed We Are Great Member."
The electronics mart sprawls under the name Saiko, which connotes "fantastic" in Japanese, and it is. Amid the televisions with vast screens and camcorders that fit in a palm, there are household appliances so unusual that, like the Zojirushi electric airpot, its very function is unfamiliar. Not distant, there is a display of $149.95 Sony Repeat Learning Systems, designed to teach English to Japanese. Sample sentences: "There's something about him that rubs me the wrong way," and "I'm under a lot of pressure."
But the real show-stopper of this sophisticated megamart is actually out in the Hudson River. It stands on piers, with a panoramic view of the skyline. It is the Chinzan-So restaurant, built in the gracefully curved pyramidical image of Rokuon-ji, a fifteenth-century temple. Amid pools of quiet, reflective water is—inside—a two-story, ten-ton pile of volcanic boulders freighted from the side of Mount Fuji. Its Kaiseki cuisine, developed through the centuries by great masters of the tea ceremony, is the height of Japanese culinary creativity. The Aoi entree is $100. For one.
This strange, fascinating, and wondrous display is the Yaohan Plaza-New York. It is one of the largest such all Japanese hypermarkets in the world. It features everything from a Japanese bookstore to the Pony Toy Go Around toy store, to a Super Health drugstore that offers cotton gauze masks to people with colds who might be riding the subway, to a bakery producing breads shaped like alligators. Tokyo Gardens sells bonsai junipers. The Promotion liquor mart flaunts an astounding variety of sake. The produce market features everything from ohba leaves to pears flown in from Japan in mesh plastic nests. The UCC Cafe Plaza window displays uncannily realistic plastic models of its offerings. One is labeled HAM SANDWICH.
The Yaohan Plaza-New York organization runs twenty-three such malls worldwide, from Brazil to Hong Kong, and ninety in Japan. This extravaganza, which opened in 1988, is exactly the same as would be found in Tokyo, say its founders. Except, of course, it has more variety. After all, it is almost five times bigger than average. The typical sale in the grocery areas alone is over $1 oo. This should come as no surprise. Yaohan Plaza-New York is serving one of the most cosmopolitan metropolitan areas on the globe, right? Why shouldn't it be the height of sophistication?
This leaves, perhaps, only one question. Why is it in New Jersey?
Why put such an exotic creation a full $50 cab ride from the presumed worldliness of midtown Manhattan? In the Edge City of Fort Lee? On the far side of Harlem?
Hiroaki Kawai, Yaohan Plaza's spokesman, seems a little perplexed by the question. The answer is perfectly obvious to him. Forty percent of Yaohan Plaza's business comes from the sixty thousand Japanese working for their global companies in the New York area, he patiently explained. Few of them live in Manhattan. He is startled that anyone would think otherwise. Why would a Japanese come to America to live in a cramped apartment?
They live around here, in Fort Lee, he says, where they can have houses and cars and get around. Or in nearby Westchester County, New York, around the Edge City of White Plains, proximate to the world headquarters of IBM.
Another thing, he says: Look at the size of Yaohan Plaza. It would not be possible to build something like this in Manhattan. Where would you park the cars? A place this large and sophisticated needs support from people all over the region. Even here, the major problem is that there are only four hundred parking spaces, and they are so full now on weekends, what with chartered buses arriving from as far away as Philadelphia and Washington, people sometimes have to wait thirty minutes for a spot to open up. What is really needed is at least eight hundred slots, he says, plus more space on which to build. His consortium covetously eyes the riverfront land next door occupied by the looming Hills Brothers coffee plant, which fills the salt air of Yaohan Plaza's parking lot with the fresh aroma of roasted brew. Knock that flat and you could build a brand-new world out here, with attractions that dazzle the mind, Kawai explains matter-of-factly. A Japanese culture center, a Japanese hotel, amusement facilities, all nice and safe, marked by abundant free parking.
His English is quite fluent, but Kawai nonetheless occasionally stops to ask his listener if he is using the right words to get his points across. He seems to find it curious that anybody would find the Yaohan Plaza's location curious. Oh yes, he says, we've already opened several such hypermarts in North America, and have plans to open ten more in the next ten years. He starts ticking off the locations. Costa Mesa1an Edge City in Orange County, south of Los Angeles. San Jose—an Edge City in Silicon Valley. Arlington Heights, near Schaumburg—an Edge City of Chicago. "In old downtowns it is very difficult to find enough space for us," he says. "So we go out to new towns, where there is plenty of space." Kawai is so engrossed with his Edge City locations around North America that I finally ask, "Who did your site location research for you? Did somebody coach you on this, or did you figure it out all by yourself?"
We figured it out all by ourselves, he says. Japanese people who were familiar with the States because they had gone to school here were a big help. But to him the logic of locating in an Edge City rather than an old center like Manhattan is patent. If you look at the way people live in this country, the land of opportunity is New Jersey.
Joel Kotkin is the California co-author, with Yoriko Kishimoto, of The Third Century: America's Resurgence in the Asian Era. Kotkin is bullish on America's future because of its ability to be flexible and innovative and because it is capable of assimilating waves of immigrants who supply immense entrepreneurial energy—especially, in this era, Asians. But even he guffaws when told that the Yaohan Plaza-New York is actually in Edgewater, NewJersey. "When I was growing up," says the transplanted New Yorker, "being from New Jersey was a social disease."
But it is no surprise that Hiroaki Kawai feels at home in New Jersey. New Jersey is, in many respects, America's urban future. It is the first state in the Union to be more densely populated than Japan. It is also the first state in the Union to be more urban.
And in countless ways, if this is America's urban future, the future is bright. Not only is New Jersey headquarters to dozens of Fortune 500 companies, as well as thousands of entrepreneurial start-ups; it is a place of immense diversity, from the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, which cradled Albert Einstein, to ethnic neighborhoods like Trenton's Chambersburg, with memorable restaurants on every corner. New Jersey is a kind of California of the East Coast. It gave birth to fiber optics, the transistor, the solar cell, sound movies, the communications satellite, evidentiary proof of the Big Bang hypothesis of the origin of the universe, and Bruce Springsteen. It has 127 miles of beaches. It is the home of the NFL's Giants, the NBA's Nets, and the NHL's Devils. It is lavishly blessed with jealously guarded natural beauty, from the backpacking country of the Delaware Water Gap and Ramapo Mountains in the Appalachian Highlands to the pristine and solitary Atlantic shores of Cape May. New Jersey is not called the Garden State for nothing. Its truck farms supply local supermarket chains with 35 percent of their produce in season. It is laden with extravagant rolling estates. More than 40 percent of the entire state is still in forest. At one million acres, the spooky and beautiful Pinelands, with peat-stained water the color of tea, is by far the largest such horizon-to-horizon wild area north of the Everglades and east of the Mississippi.
Yet all this variety, beauty, economic prowess, density, and urbanity has been achieved without New Jersey's having within its boundaries what most people would consider even one major city. Whatever their virtues, Newark and Elizabeth are rarely described as big time. All this proves, however, is that most Americans' idea of what makes up a city no longer matches reality, because it doesn't encompass the central reality of New Jersey: Edge Cities.
An old-fashioned downtown—sporting tall concrete-and-steel buildings with walls that touch each other, laid out on a rectangular grid, accented by sidewalks, surrounded by political boundaries, and lorded over by a mayor—is only one way to think of a city. In fact, it is only the nineteenth-century version. These sorts of cities, epitomized in the United States by Manhattan and San Francisco, are proud places that will always be cherished. But they are relics of a time past. They are the aberrations. We built cities that way for less than a century. Those years, from perhaps 1840 t0 1920, were by no means unimportant. They encompassed both the Industrial Revolution and the era of America's Manifest Destiny. Thriving old downtowns that have bright futures because they continue to be rejuvenated still bear their stamp, from Chicago to Seattle.
This does not begin to exhaust the idea of city. From ancient times, what made a city a city was how it functioned, not how it looked. And this is especially true today, for we have not built a single old-style downtown from raw dirt in seventy-five years.
The Edge Cities of New Jersey, instead, represent our new standard. If New Jersey was described by Benjamin Franklin as "a barrel tapped at both ends"—Philadelphia and New York—suddenly New Jersey is the right side of the rivers. In the late 1980s, New Jersey's Edge Cities grew more rapidly and generated more jobs than the entire state of New York. These Edge Cities now rise as their own commonwealths, from the one in the Route 1-Princeton area to the office tower forest emerging along Interstates 80 and 287 near Whippany and Parsippany. New Jersey's Edge Cities exemplify the new mix of urbanity, demonstrating what people want, can afford, and can stand. These Edge Cities, in fact, are the fruit of our attempt to strike a delicate balance between the advantages and disadvantages of 19th-century cities and the opportunities and challenges of the coming age. As such, they are being copied all over the world.
Making sense of an Edge City requires the following leap of faith: any place that is a trade, employment, and entertainment center of vast magnitude is functionally a city. That is true no matter how sprawling and strange it looks physically, and no matter how anarchic or convoluted it seems politically. If it is sufficiently diverse, vibrant, and specialized—which mainly is to say huge—it is a city. Conversely, any place that isn't, doesn't qualify: Fort Peck City in Montana is not urban no matter what it is called by its six hundred proud denizens.
Libraries have been written about why humans ever built cities in the first place, but most historians agree that, for the last eight thousand years, cities have been shaped by seven purposes:
Edge Cities function along exactly these lines, although the emphasis has shifted provocatively over the centuries. Take the New Jersey Edge City an hour west of Wall Street, around the intersection of Interstates 287 and 78, in the area from Bridgewater to Basking Ridge and from Warren to Bedminster. Tracing the effect of these seven historical forces on the shaping of this Edge City helps reveal what it is this civilization values.
Industry, for example—the creation of jobs and wealth—is the very point of Edge Cities. AT&T's world headquarters is in this "287 and 78" world. It is universally referred to as the Pagoda because it is vaguely Oriental in a Frank Lloyd Wright kind of way. Its tiled, cascading tiers of heavy-lidded roofs and hanging gardens are massive and lavish enough to be the envy of any Chinese emperor.
The Pagoda opened in 1976 in the 287 and 78 neighborhood of Basking Ridge because AT&T thought that was the best place to grow and make money. Although AT&T was founded in Manhattan in 1885 and still uses that as its corporate address, not a single top executive is permanently located there. In the 1930s, Bell Labs-AT&T's renowned research and development armcustom-designed for itself an elaborate 1.7-million-square-foot, high-rise headquarters employing fifty-six hundred people on less than four acres of Manhattan. The plans were shucked in 1939. Corporate archives show that even fifty years ago old downtowns were thought to have competitive problems. "High costs of land in Manhattan," "high living costs," and "the urban noise and dirt," as well as the inefficiencies of skyscrapers and the commuting woes on the ferries and tubes, were already major issues, according to corporate documents.
So in the opening days of World War II, Bell Labs moved out to a grandly christened "campus" in Murray Hill, near what is now Interstate 78. AT&T never looked back. In 1977, the Long Lines division-the long-distance operation that is now the bulk of the company's franchise-pulled its headquarters from the bowels of lower Manhattan. It, too, moved to 287 and 78-in Bedminster, near the Far Hills fox-hunt estates of boxer Mike Tyson, the late Malcolm Forbes, and the king of Morocco.
This is no small deal. The two-story Strangelovian "videowall" control center for AT&T's network linking 146 countries is in the foothills there today. If the future belongs to whoever controls the glass-fiber networks of the multibillion-dollar information marketplace, 287 and 78 someday may erupt like a historic boomtown-Chicago in the heyday of railroads or Detroit when the automobile was new or Houston when oil approached $4o a barrel.
Meanwhile, more than fifty years after Bell Labs made its move-which was back when high technology was a phone you didn't have to crank-New Jersey's Edge Cities have proven sufficiently useful that AT&T has 225 facilities in them. They include the headquarters of each major division. AT&T located enough facilities in the New Jersey Edge Cities in the mid- 1970s alone to overflow one of the World Trade Center's 110-story towers. AT&T now occupies twenty-two million square feet of space there. That is more than exists in downtown Seattle. More than fifty-one thousand people are employed by AT&T in New Jersey's Edge Cities.
This is increasingly common. Edge Cities are headquarters to such diverse giants as Motorola (Schaumburg, Illinois), K-mart (Troy, Michigan), Black & Decker (Hunt Valley, Maryland), and -the Greatest Show on Earth-the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (Tysons Corner, Virginia).* Sears, Roebuck and Company recently pulled its headquarters out of that symbol of old downtowns, the world's tallest building, the 110-story Sears Tower on Chicago's Wacker Drive. After a nationwide search, it located in the Hoffman Estates neighborhood of the Edge City centered on Schaumburg, thirty miles to the northwest. Sears' move illustrated what these corporations are trying to do: heighten competitiveness by consolidating entire operations, save a few bucks, and, it is hoped, enhance the quality of the work force and the living and working environment.
That is why these Edge Cities are hardly one-company towns. A lot of outfits have the same idea. The 287 and 78 area flies the corporate banners of TRW, NYNEX, Chubb, Allstate, Prudential, Beneficial, Bristol-Myers, Hoechst Celanese, Johnson & Johnson, Chase Manhattan, and Dun & Bradstreet. It contains more than sixteen million leasable square feet of office space full of white-collar jobs. That's larger than downtown New Orleans. This Edge City not only has a corporate jet airfield fifteen minutes away in Morristown; it has achieved such stature that its heavy hitters recently started to feel put upon. It seems that when they returned from Europe and Asia, the federal government had the annoying habit of forcing their private jets to first land at Teterboro, forty miles east. That was the nearest strip with a customs facility. Only after that stop could they fire up the turbines for the five-minute hop to 287 and 78. So the high rollers bought themselves their own customs office for Morristown. This is an airport with no regularly scheduled commercial flights, but it is now in effect Morristown International. They pay for this customs shed, they use it, it's theirs.
(In fact, the rise nationwide of satellite airports with surprisingly high levels of full-blown commercial service is a direct result of Edge Cities. In the orbit of New York's Edge Cities, for example, there are now six airports with serious, scheduled, national-airline jet service. That is because a lot of people in Edge Cities don't want to fight their way into La Guardia, Newark, or JFK. The newly important outer airports include MacArthur in Islip, halfway out on Long Island; Westchester; and Stewart International, in Newburgh, New York, seventy-five miles up the Hudson from Manhattan.)
Although nationally known corporations get a lot of press when they relocate to Edge City, they are not the quoin of capitalism there. It is the young, fast-growing entrepreneurial start-up-especially in high technology-that is the mark of Edge City. Inc. ("The Magazine for Growing Companies") in 1989 specifically made the connection. "One lure may lie in the basically unsettled nature of life on the edge," Inc. reported. "The people who like the status quo stay downtown where the old elites are. People who are out there redefining themselves, like entrepreneurs, are attracted to places that are new, where things are more flexible."
The creation of enterprise and jobs, and thus cities, has not changed much through history. It's always required a great deal of raw material drawn to one location, to which is added people to shape the material into something different and useful. The result is then shipped back out to an eager world. Today, that location is Edge City.
That's because the raw material has changed. Now that stock is made up of problems. There are so many of them that they come to places like 287 and 78 via huge satellite dishes-the heavy haulers, the railroads of the future. In Edge City, the offices are the factories of the Information Age. That is where problems are accumulated and the information of which they are made is mined for valuable nuggets. There it is digested and decided on by the work force, transformed, and repackaged.
The finished product shipped back out, essentially, is cleverness. It includes everything from decisions to buy and sell, to designs and redesigns, to software, to reports, to legal opinions, to television advertising. The worth of this cleverness can be thought of as independent of the physical object in which it may be embedded. Take the price of a telephone, for example. No one buying one cares about the cost per pound of this lump of plastic and silicon. The value of the phone is in how ingenious it is-how many features it has, how portable it is, how reliable it is. It is measured by how much cleverness it represents.
This shift to Information Age cities is as basic a revolution as the one we went through a century and a half ago at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. In 1850, for example, 85 percent of the U.S. population was rural. Cities, such as they were, were small and mercantile. Their landmarks were the counting houses down by the wharves. There, the riches of the hinterlands were swapped for the complexities of Europe and Asia. By the turn of the century, that had all changed. Mighty cities like Pittsburgh were built not so much on their relationship to farm and woodlands as on the relation of their factories to iron ore, coal, and sweating labor.
Before the Industrial Revolution, a world like today's would have been utterly unimaginable-in which only 3 percent of all Americans farm and more than three quarters are metropolitan slickers. Edge City represents as radical a shift. This is not because America's manufacturing prowess has rusted. Ignore the gloom-and-doom-sayers. The United States is now so technically advanced that it makes a ton of steel with fewer work hours than any nation on earth. From basic metals to chemicals to pharmaceuticals, American industry is strong. The American worker is by far the most productive in the world. Manufacturing jobs in America are actually increasing in absolute numbers.
But the way the world measures success in manufacturing today is by how quickly the number of blue-collar workers per object created can decline. That means increased productivitymore output per person-which means competitiveness with the rest of the world. Thus, it is possible to imagine an America with as strong a manufacturing base as there is now an agricultural base, in which the share of people actually turning widgets is astonishingly low. It is already no more than 18 percent of the work force-and it sank below 50 percent for the first time only in 1953.
That leads to the key work location being the office. That is industry in the late twentieth century. Instead of actually making airplanes, people more typically are figuring out how to make stronger, lighter composites to translate less fuel into more passengers in airplanes. Or they are supporting the people who do-either directly as researchers or word processors, or indirectly, by delivering their meals, fixing their Xerox machines, or nurturing their children.
That is why five million square feet of leasable office space is the point of critical mass for Edge City. The developer's rule of thumb is: One office worker equals 25 o square feet. That's the size of a fair-sized living room, and counts not just the worker's desk area, but her share of reception rooms, file rooms, stockrooms, and Xerox rooms.
Why do Edge Cities seem to hit critical mass at five million square feet of leasable office space? No one knows exactly at a theoretical level. But the figure does work like crazy as a predictor. When one drives out to see a place so measured, one always finds the same tall buildings, bright lights, and a hustle and bustle that is distinctly urban, albeit a little raw and cracked.
Five million square feet of office is a point of spontaneous combustion. It turns out to be exactly enough to support the building of a luxury hotel. It causes secondary explosions; businesses begin to flock to the location to serve the businesses already there. Five million square feet is a huge number; more than a hundred acres. That much space dwarfs the sizable downtown of Dayton, Richmond, Wilmington, or Spokane. It represents dozens of office buildings that would cover blocks and blocks in an old downtown. The number instantly and decisively rules out our using "city" for any suburban office strip of dentists and cut-rate tax-return accountants. The number represents a reality that is so quantitatively different as to be qualitatively different.
This measure of Edge City is especially useful because it is easily gathered. Edge City is a creature of the marketplace, and commercial real estate agents are its most devoted acolytes. Their mental maps of what constitutes a single commercial real estate "submarket" is usually an exquisite description of' the functional outlines of Edge City. If you wish to know whether a place near you is a full-blown Edge City, simply ask a commercial real estate agent to total up the leasable square footage numbers in his computer by submarket.
Interestingly, it has to be office space. Industrial and warehouse space does not create anything urbane. No dense centers ever evolve. Factories usually figure one worker for every fortyfive hundred square feet. This is eighteen times less dense than office space. Warehouse space has even fewer workers than that. Only one story high, a warehouse sprawls over the landscape much more than does Edge City. North Carolina is the tenth most populous state in the Union. It has 35 percent of its work force in manufacturing-the highest level in the nation. Yet it has no large downnowws at all, and not much in the way of an Edge City outside the white-collar confines of the Research Triangle: Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill. City of Industry, California, aptly named, has a staggering hundred million square feet of factory and warehouse space-almost four square miles under roof. But precious little of that Southern California site passes for civilization. Industrial and warehouse workers rarely demand specialty retail, high-end services, cloth-napkin restaurants, hotels, and bookstores.
With the workplace now centered on offices, cities are transformed. For one thing, "cleverness" is not heavy; it is not measured in tons, like steel or corn or petroleum. Thus, it does not have to be, like an old downtown, near water or rail-the preferred movers of "heavy." Edge Cities, in fact, typically rise at the interchange of freeways. This should come as no surprise. "Whatever its shape, its architecture, or the civilization that illuminates it, the town creates roads and is created by them," Fernand Braudel wrote of the Middle Ages. "We should imagine the great trade route to the East [of the 1500s] as something like today's autostrada. "
Cities are always created around whatever the state-of-the-art transportation device is at the time. If the state of the art is sandal leather and donkeys, you get Jerusalem. Even when wheeled vehicles replaced pack animals as the freight technology of choice fifteen centuries after Jesus, Jerusalem remained shaped by its transportation origins.
When the state of the art is carriages and oceangoing sail, you get the compact, water-dominated East Coast cities of Paul Revere's Boston and George Washington's Alexandria. Or Amsterdam and Antwerp.
Canal barge and steamship give you Boss Tweed's New York. Intraurban (the El) and transcontinental rail (the stockyards) yield Bugsy Moran's Chicago. The automobile results in Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles.
When, in 1958, you threw in the jet passenger plane, you got more Los Angeles in strange places-Atlanta, Denver, Houston, Dallas, and Phoenix.
The combination of the present is the automobile, the jet plane, and the computer. The result is Edge City. The proof is the half-million-square-foot corporate headquarters of Beneficial Corporation, formerly Beneficial Finance. Incongruously located off a two-lane country road one exit north of the interchange of Interstates 287 and 78, Beneficial's headquarters is a complex of low, brooding brick linked by cobblestone courtyards and crowned by an eighty-foot clock tower that management is pleased to refer to as "the campanile." This headquarters looms like a baronial castle over the swale in which the perfect white spire of the Reformed Church marks the picturesque village of Peapack. The effect is supposed to be campuslike. It did indeed overpower one would-be Beneficial executive. At his hiring interview, having seen the place for the first time, he looked out over one quadrangle and couldn't help himself. Out he blurted, "So how's the football team doing?"
The Beneficial site is achingly bucolic. The "guest house" is Hamilton Farm, the former estate of the Brady dynasty, from which sprang Nicholas Brady, secretary of the treasury under George Bush. The sixty-four-room manse is profusely hung with oil portraits of horses with names like Exterminator and Twenty Grand. Out back, the carefully rolled lawn sports a wind sock. For the helicopters. When I mentioned I'd almost clobbered four deer in the driveway, the chairman and chief executive officer, Finn M. W. Caspersen, replied idly, "Only four?" There are usually more, he said, showing only the mildest interest in the fact that there were all these large wild animals bounding around his Edge City.
The deer, after all, are not the stars of the show in these parts. The horses are. The long-time headquarters of the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team is at Hamilton Farm. The stables, when they were built in 1916, were described as the largest and most lavish in the United States. They have forty ornate carriage rooms, harness rooms, and human bedrooms featuring tile walls, terrazzo floors, and brass fittings. The floors of the fiftyfour twelve-foot-square box stalls are made of bricks of cork.
As it happens, Caspersen is a competitor in an event called the "four in hand." That involves making four horses pulling a carriage perform like gymnasts. It is an exotic sport by the standards of fox hunting. When Caspersen beat Prince Philip at it in England to take the world championship, the glass trophy came home next to him in the seat he'd bought for it on the Concorde. Nonetheless, Caspersen protests it was not he who insisted that the Beneficial headquarters be built next to the headquarters of the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team. It was just a happy coincidence. The serendipity of corporate decision making.
Caspersen's version of the logic that brought the diversity, complexity, size, and function of a major corporation out to Edge City-of how his Machine of many parts was brought out to the Garden-goes like this:
"We came to the conclusion in the 1970s that the rest of the century was going to put a premium on employees in our business-financial services. And many employees were going to want a life style more than just money-a helpful environment and a pleasant environment.
"We also came to the conclusion that women were becoming more and more of a factor in our business. And when a woman has to combine raising a family and working, there's a very strong argument for being out near where people live.
"And personally, I am not a proponent of skyscrapers. I think there's an impersonal feeling about a skyscraper that makes it very difficult to have any kind of corporate culture. The only time you see people is in the elevator.
"So with that combination, what we were looking for was 80 percent of our people being able to live within twenty miles. That location had to be within three or four miles of a major interstate and it had to have room for expansion. An hour from a major airport-Newark is now thirty-five minutes away. We also wanted to have a railroad nearby. We weren't quite sure what role that was going to play-it turns out not too much.
"And we decided it was time to build a very pleasant workplace, and make it as personalized as possible. A lot of small buildings-that in practice are all connected, underground. A little more square footage than usual per person. But emphasize the outside. Eat outside, set up tables. There's two ball fields. Obviously you have tennis courts. We have a cafeteria here, we have a gymnasium, we have a company store if people need a new razor and wrapping paper or something. We have a barber shop. We have a gas station.
"As a result we've been able to recruit, even at lower salaries, against-certainly against anybody in New York unless you get a dedicated New Yorkerphile-but against most people even out here. And trying to make quality of life an issue does reduce turnover. Any personnel people will tell you the longer you can keep an able person, the better you are."
The result is over a thousand people working at a corporate headquarters that not only would never have been seen outside an old downtown until recently, but is now located in a part of New Jersey in which the deer are a nuisance and Canada geese on corporate lawns a cliché. The night before I talked to Caspersen, I ended up chatting with a man from Beneficial's Utah offices.
"I like this," he said. "I like this a lot." He couldn't get over the verdant country lanes and all the trees. He knew it was unspeakably craven for a westerner even to think what he was thinking, but what the hell. He stuck his chin out. "This is enough for me to re-examine my prejudices about the East."
Caspersen, nonetheless, is already looking to move farther out. The corporate goal of having 8o percent of the employees able to live within twenty miles of the office is already a bust. He thinks the number is now no more than 6o percent. The area had so many advantages that even in a sagging Northeast real estate market half a million dollars per house was not unusual. And automobile traffic is a concern. "That may be a fatal defect -the roads. Though what's the alternative? There are the same problems with center city. You have to get there. Mass transit is not a very pleasant circumstance. People don't like it. It's no more pleasant than driving. Things work if there's transportation. They don't if there isn't," says Caspersen, echoing the sentiment of city builders throughout the millennia.
But then he starts talking about Beneficial's computers in a way that reveals how Edge Cities are the creation of a new way of handling ancient transportation concerns. Beneficial's computers allow Caspersen to uncouple the pieces of his corporation and move them around in ways that ground transportation never could.
"Let me explain to you one of our projects," he says. It is called Rapid Refund. "It's a joint venture with H & R Block. For an extra $25, H & R Block will offer to send your tax return into the IRS electronically. You say, `Why should I do that?' Well, you'll probably get your refund quicker. Then they say `By the way, we've got another program. For an extra thirty-five bucks we'll get you your money tomorrow.' "
Here's how it works. The distant office of H & R Block, where the taxpayer is, zaps the return to the H & R Block central computer in Columbus, Ohio. The Columbus computer then zaps the return to an IRS computer in Ogden, Utah; Cincinnati, Ohio; or Andover, Massachusetts; depending on the region in which it originated. If the IRS computer decides it looks like a good return-no liens against the taxpayer, for example-it relays the message back to Columbus. That computer then sends information from the return up to Beneficial's computer at 287 and 78, which decides if it meets their standards for a quickie loan. If so, the Peapack computer instructs the Columbus computer to tell the branch office computer to cut a check. (At the same time, the Peapack computer is taking care of bookkeeping with the Beneficial computer in Wilmington, Delaware, where Beneficial's bank is located.) The taxpayer comes back the next day to the H & R Block office in west Nowhere, Idaho, and picks up his check. "All happens in twenty-four hours. Yes. Just like that," says Caspersen. "And you can do it anywhere. Sure you can. It's all their computers, our computers, and the IRS's computers."
That is why Caspersen is thinking of moving his programmers out of 287 and 78. Theirs, he says, is a highly skilled business. "We're talking average salary, $45,000. They are college educated and have skills that you and I don't. And these are highly transferrable skills, so you really want to keep them happy. If they have a long commute that they don't like, find a place with a comparative advantage."
He thinks the answer may be to locate them nearer the more affordable housing in the Edge City emerging down I-78, across the Delaware River in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania's Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton area. Or, for that matter, in Dallas, Texas. Lot of cheap housing and office space there. "You can set up your programmers really anyplace," he said.
If that's true, I ask him, why bother to have any agglomerations at all? Why bother to have a headquarters? Why build a city of any kind, even an Edge City?
"You know, that's the question of the future. Why don't people all stay at home and work? We've got over a thousand people here and at least 10 percent of them work through our systems at home. Particularly women when they're on maternity leave will do much of their work at home and use their terminals for that. But there's a line beyond which it really doesn't work. It's different for different people. But you lose that team spirit, the ability to work together, if you don't get the touchy-feely, the face-to-face. You can use it part time, you can use it at night, and you can use it on the weekend. But they still have to come in or you lose that synergy between people, you lose the corporate culture. And the corporate culture is very important."
This turns out to be big news. For all of its attenuation, the bulletin is this: Edge City means density is back. "Maybe the wonder," said the urbanologist Jane Jacobs in an interview, "is how thin things got."
Humans still put an overwhelming premium on face-to-face contact. Telephones, fax machines, electronic mail, and video conferencing share a problem: they do not produce intense human relationships. They do not create interactions that end with either a fistfight or an embrace. "Trust" is tough to build over a wire. Edge Cities prove that a market thrives for bringing people together physically. Humans are still gregarious animals.
Edge City is not really a rejection of the nineteenth-century city of Dickens. Nor does it reject the nineteenth-century vision of nature of Thoreau. Instead, perhaps, it strives for a new equipoise, a new but stable urban energy level. Forget our alleged isolation in "automotive cocoons" and "sterile subdivisions." The final value of Edge Cities is-social.
That is why there are more than twenty Edge Cities emerging in the New York area. There are that many huge markets out beyond the old core for this new balance. Ten are in northern New Jersey, two in central New Jersey, one on the border in Pennsylvania, and nine more in nearby New York State and Connecticut. Each of them is or will soon be bigger than Memphis.
Edge Cities are most frequently located where beltway-like bypasses around an old downtown are crossed at right angles by freeways that lead out from the old center like spokes on a wheel. New Jersey can be thought of as having three such beltways that circumvent Manhattan. One is Interstate 95, the East Coast's main drag. In this part of the world, it is called the New Jersey Turnpike, and it shunts traffic headed south toward Washington or north toward Boston around Manhattan via the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson. The second bypass, which is popular for through traffic because of the congestion of I-g5 near Manhattan, is the Garden State Parkway. The third, Interstate 287, the northern leg of which is scheduled to be completed in the early 1990s, is the most obviously beltwaylike because it broadly loops halfway around the state, never getting much within an hour of Manhattan.
There are three spokes on the wheel heading west from Manhattan across the Hudson-one bridge and two tunnels. At the New Jersey end of each of these, an Edge City is growing. The northernmost is where Interstate 95 lifts off toward Harlem and the Bronx. That is the high-palisades, high-rise Fort Lee area of Yaohan Plaza fame. The next, opposite midtown via the Lincoln Tunnel, is the Meadowlands, the center of which is the intersection of Route 3 and Interstate 95 at the home of the "New York" Giants and "New York" Jets, as well as the Jersey Nets and Devils. Office plazas are rising all up and down Route 3. Hoboken, which is that part of the Meadowlands Edge City that has the best view of Manhattan because it is right on the Hudson, actually became trendy in the 1980s.
The Edge City opposite Wall Street via the Holland Tunnel is the Newark International Airport area, strategically located at the intersections of Interstates 95 and 78. The civic boosters of the Hudson shore areas of Jersey City are now pleased to call that the Gold Coast. What it really is, is that portion of the Newark International Airport Edge City that has the nicest view of Wall Street, as well as direct PATH train connections to the World Trade Center. That's why some very high-rent residential development, featuring high security and water taxis, was built on the grim industrial waterfront facing Wall Street during its go-go merger-and-acquisition years. When that boom ended in the late 1 g8os, of course, so did a lot of Wall Street salaries, and it was hello Chapter I I. But, oh well. This place still has a lot of advantages. I bought a sweatshirt there that read "Proud to Be an American. Statue of Liberty State Park. It's in New Jersey."
On the second bypass road, the Garden State Parkway, there are three more Edge Cities. From south to north, the first is the Woodbridge Mall area. This is the place just above New Brunswick where you turn off the cruise control and shut up the kids. That is where all the major north-south highways on the East Coast merge, scramble, and peel off. Menlo Park is here, where Thomas Edison invented the twentieth century. Even the New York Times has figured out this place enough to stake a turnpike claim on a massive building.
The second Edge City on the Garden State is just north at a curious place called Metropark. This has been described as the first Edge City in the world to grow from a parking lot:. That may be true, but this parking lot had a lot of advantages. Metropark is still one of the fastest, safest, and cheapest places to change modes of ground transportation in the Northeast. Leave 'your car there at Iselin and pick up either good short-haul train connections into Manhattan or Amtrak long-haul. To as distant a destination as Washington, the high-speed Metroliner competes successfully with shuttle jets.
There is another city north of this, which goes by the venerable old name of Newark. Newark has enough office space to be considered moderate-sized by Edge City standards. It even has a new twenty-two-story office tower, anchored by the Seton Hall University School of Law. But it has been around for so long and its growth is so conditional that it should not really be counted as Edge.
Therefore, the third Garden State Parkway Edge City comes after you pass through all those blue-collar neighborhoods on the parkway that look like the opening credits of All in the Family. Fifteen miles north, this is the Paramus-Montvale area of Bergen County. It is a relatively mature part of New Jersey, but was originally suburbanized by people looking for sylvan environs who were used to Manhattan-level salaries. It was then urbanized when they brought their jobs With them. Richard Milhous Nixon lives and writes his books in these parts.
Of the Interstate 287 Edge Cities, we've already mentioned one-the Woodbridge area way to the south where 287 is crossed by all those north-south arteries. Then, following around clockwise, there is 287 and 78, the Edge City we've been examining, centered on Bridgewater. That intersection is important because of where Interstate 78 goes. East, it leads right into the international flights at Newark Airport and the Edge City there, and then on into Wall Street via the Holland Tunnel. West, just over the Delaware River, it dumps into the emerging Edge City of Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley.
Out of date are the impressions of this area shaped by the 1982 Billy Joel song that goes "Well We're living here in Allentown / And they're closing all the factories down; / Out in Bethlehem they're killing time / Filling out forms, standing in line." Today, the Lehigh Valley is booming-its unemployment rate fell from 11 percent to 4 right after Joel's song came out. Because of its abundant skilled labor, pleasant environment, and bargain housing opportunities compared with New Jersey, an Edge City of an Edge City is rising there. It is not in the orbit of New York. It is in the orbit Of 287 and 78. That is why Beneficial is thinking about setting up its backshop of computer programmers there.
North of 287 and 78, there is old Morristown. Its freeway approach is memorable: GEORGE WASHINGTON'S HEADQUARTERS, EXIT, ONE MILE. And people say Edge Cities have no history. Red Coats-right lane only?
The Morristown area has an arts community, two universities nearby-Drew and Fairleigh Dickinson-and a thriving downtown. It has not yet hit critical mass as a job center, and probably won't until Route 24 is extended, so it does not qualify as an Edge City; it is headed in that direction. Now, though, it is still serving a residential community; many of the members work in 287 and 78 and in 287 and 80, the next Edge City north around Parsippany-Troy Hills.
That latter Edge City, 287 and 80, which includes the I-280 spur, is already formidable, and is expected to gain more advantage during this decade with the completion-through environmentally fragile wetlands, after enormous controversy-of Interstate 287 all the way to the New York State border. For that matter, the area near Mahwah at Route I7-the "Quickway" to the Catskills-at the other end Of 287's so-called missing link should also profit. If it grows, it will spill over into New York State's Rockland County.
Those are the Edge Cities of northern New jersey, but the 287 beltway's influence does not end there. The Tappen Zee Bridge is the next river crossing up from Harlem, where it takes 287 into Westchester County, New York. There, three more Edge Cities arise. The biggest is in the center of the county, at White Plains, where the region's Edge City phenomenon got an early boost in 1954 when General Foods moved its headquarters there from Manhattan. The one emerging to the west is in the Tarrytown area. The one to the east is in Purchase-Rye, the headquarters of Pepsico—one of the world's largest consumergoods providers. It is located where 287 finally picks up Interstate 95 again as it heads north toward Connecticut-and New England.
There are two more Interstate 95 Edge Cities in southwestern Connecticut's Fairfield County. One is the Stamford area, relatively near Manhattan. The other is the Westport and Fairfield area farther out on 95, in which is the headquarters of General Electric, the corporation that in the 1990s began to challenge IBM as the largest corporation in America.
Long Island was the first place in America to be declared urban by the U.S. Census without having a single significant nineteenth-century-style city. It was also the first such territory to spawn a national-quality newspaper-Newsday-which is now challenging the downtown papers on their own turf with a New York City edition. Long Island is even more prototypically Edge City than New Jersey. Suffolk County is that half of the island most distant from the mainland. (It is, in fact, a very long island.) As long ago as the 1980 Census, only 14 percent of the people in Suffolk County commuted to New York. For that matter, only 16 percent of them commuted to neighboring, more built-up Nassau County, to the West. Fully two-thirds worked right there on the eastern end of Long Island. Even in Nassau County, which, like Suffolk, is comparable to Manhattan in population and is separated from it only by Queens, 62 percent never leave the island to go to work.
From west to east, the Long Island Edge Cities are the Great Neck-Lake Success area and the Mitchell Field-Garden City area in Nassau County. In Suffolk, there is Route 110-Melville, just east of the county line, and Hauppauge, ten miles farther east on the Long Island Expressway.
There are yet two more Edge Cities in the region. They are so far into central New Jersey that it is debatable whether they are in the orbit of New York, Philadelphia, north Jersey, or are freestanding. One is the Princeton-Route 1 corridor, which in the 1980s was the fastest growing in New Jersey and among the most traffic-choked. The other is Cherry Hill, the home of the first Rouse-Corporation mall, right there between Camden and the James Fenimore Cooper Rest Area.
If the ultimate value of Edge Cities is social-if their whole point is a balance between individualism and face-to-face contact-then the uniting of diverse people into federations, that is, politics or governance, remains a historic city shaper. In few places is that made more clear than in 287 and 78. It was the first place in America whose inhabitants were so hungry for a center to their Edge City that they waged a grass-roots struggle for two decades to get it.
The people of Bridgewater Township, at the heart of 287 and 78, decided in the late 1960s that what they wanted was a kind of twentieth-century village green. They envisioned a place that teenagers would instantly recognize as a fine location to promenade before the opposite sex, akin to the Mexican village square. They hoped that the old would come there to exercise early in the morning, as in a Chinese city park. What they wanted was a market meeting place reminiscent of the Greek agora. They could see a place that was warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and festooned with plants in every season. It would provide for every earthly need, exactly like "the heart of Constantinople, its 'bazestan' [bazaar], with its four gates, its great brick arches, its everyday foods and its precious merchandise," as Braudel described that ancient realm. Around it, the people of Bridgewater figured, they would cluster all their public sitesfrom their courts of law to their courts of basketball. It would be a city center as described by the urban theorist and architect Louis Kahn: "the place of the assembled institutions."
So that is exactly what they got. After a fashion. Their plans collided with the Law of Unintended Consequences: No matter what you think you're up to, the outcome will always be a surprise. And they came to recognize the truth of that ancient wisdom: Be careful what you pray for; you just might get it. Nonetheless, a bronze historical marker may someday be affixed to their answer. For their village square is thriving. Their center finally opened in 1988 after half a generation of struggle, and it is known far and wide as Bridgewater Commons.
What it turned out to be, of course, was a 900,000-square-foot mall.
Susan Gruel grins broadly when asked if there was an epiphany in the late 1960s, a moment of truth when the people of Bridgewater rose as one and marched on the town council, carrying torches that flickered on their faces as they swayed in the moonlight, chanting, "Mall! Mall! Mall!"
Well . . . Gruel was chairman of the local redevelopment agency in the mid- 1980s, when the final contract for the mall was signed. She now smiles. No, it was not like that. But, she cheerfully admits, the whole thing did seem "peculiar" at times, even to her. Peculiar or not, the people of 287 and 78 went from dreaming about Boston Common to building Bridgewater Commons. The process by which this came about demonstrates how, in this country, we constantly reinvent ourselves by the choices that we make.
Political authorities have called cities of governance into being-Washington and Ottawa, for example-for centuries. Granada and Madrid were primarily governmental cities, as were Paris and London. Bridgewater Commons is in the same tradition as Brasilia.
Bridgewater Commons was also a reaction to the mistakes of the past. It was created by people who had seen the land around them burned in ways they vowed would never be repeated.
The first mistake they rued was in the earliest days of suburbanization. The land in the middle of the township was carved up for country getaways into lots so tiny as to be almost unbuildable. Over the generations, these phantom streets and weed-filled lots became legally choked on ownership mysteries. So the site slept despite becoming a Golden Triangle location in the eyes of the real estate industry: it was served, not to mention landlocked, by three major roads-Routes 22, 202-206, and I-287.
It was the late 1960s when a new horror loomed. A developer scraped together just enough land on the Route 22 side to demand the right to build the one thing the locals loathed even more than the weeds-a strip shopping center. "We just did not want another strip development nightmare, what we had seen east of us," remembers Al Griffith, who was mayor in the mid-1970s when the winning proposal for Bridgewater Commons was picked. "It was ugly. And we didn't want this to be a honkytonk town. we even had an ordinance that you could not have flashing lights on stores."
So to allow something serious to be created, the citizens of Bridgewater up and condemned all the land, as if it were an inner-city slum, taking ownership onto their government. They created the first area in New Jersey with no history of being urban-or even much occupied-to be declared legally blighted. They then advertised in the Wall Street Journal, seeking large-scale proposals from redevelopers. They got thirty-seven.
Another reaction to the evils of the day that created Bridgewater Commons was that Bridgewater Township was less a township by any practical standard than a centerless thirty-three square-mile legal fiction of disconnected neighborhoods. Mayor Griffith had to battle personally for Bridgewater Township to get its own Zip Code. But Bridgewater did not want a traditional downtown either. Although everybody realized that "a town center has a retail component," says Griffith, "the downtowns were not in the best of health. Sure it was a consideration-all the problems. Plus lack of parking, lack of coordination. If you allowed people to put up individual stores, we wouldn't have been able to get them to put forth the money to do the absolutely essential road improvements."
Traffic lights were the reason road improvements were essential. Traffic lights were abhorred. If this town center was going to have one thing, it was going to have overpasses. "We realized that there was a tremendous cost involved, even without the Commons. The state did not have the resources to do the job. So we realized that you would have to get the funds from a developer. To make it attractive for a developer, it had to be one piece. You would never be able to get it from individuals if you sold it off in pieces"-like an old downtown.
At the same time, by the mid-1970s a strong environmental movement had grown up in Bridgewater. Again, that was a reaction. Developers building residential subdivisions on the sides of the Watchung Mountains had caused serious erosion and drainage damage at tremendous costs to both homeowners and the township. In fact, Griffith originally got into politics to fight the flooding of his neighborhood's homes. Ultimately the politics of Bridgewater turned on which candidate could out-environment the other. The result was a demand for greenery in the new town center-for trees, for parks, for berms to hide the traffic and the buildings. The Rouse Corporation, which has a reputation for being a class act, had a plan for the Golden Triangle that, whatever its virtues, was deemed to cover the area with too much asphalt. It was rejected. "People running our town were very sensitive to keeping the town a quality town, which meant a lot of greenspace, environmental sensitivity," said Griffith.
But there was one thing worse than parking lots-and that was anything that smacked of traditional urbanism. The Taubman Company, another quality developer, came up with a plan to maximize the greenery in the Golden Triangle by concentrating a hotel, conference, and retail center into an enormous structure fourteen or fifteen stories high. That too was rejected. "We were not happy with tall buildings," Griffith recalls. "It reminded us of cities."
So, by a process of elimination that took more than a decade of dickering and contract renegotiations and lawsuits and elections, what resulted was the Bridgewater Commons that rises today-a mall with a Sheraton and two huge office towers surrounded by $23 million worth of roadwork paid for by the developer.
The mall's a doozy. The first floor (The Commons Collection) caters to the affluent with Brooks Brothers, Laura Ashley, Godiva, and major-league indoor trees. The third floor, by contrast (Campus), is neon "under-twenty-five" heaven. It has an enormous Sam Goody's record store, a store that sells nothing but sunglasses, a store that sells nothing but artifacts from cartoons, a seven-screen theater open until 1 A.M., and a sixteen-restaurant food court called Picnic on the Green. (You want village green? You got it. Squint a little. This is what it looks like in the late twentieth century.) I made the mistake of wanting to use the pay phones on this floor. Forget it. They are tied up by teenagers. For the rest of time.
In the great-appropriately enough-middle of this threelevel mall is the "home and family" floor (the Promenade), which includes two quiet, grown-up, sit-down restaurants, one with a liquor license. They even attract a business-lunch crowd. Thanks to the people of Bridgewater, who cared about things like this a lot, the restaurants actually have windows and the windows offer a view: the county's Watchung Mountains.
Around this complex, in classic Edge City fashion, more hotels and office complexes are growing. But what is far more unusual, the people of Bridgewater have clustered their political and public institutions here, too. Their City Hall is across the road, as are their playing fields, lighted for night games, their housing for the elderly, their library, their low-cost housing, their vocational education center, their mental health facility, their Martin Luther King, Jr., social center for the disadvantaged, their schools, their courts, their highway maintenance yards, their animal shelter, their state police, their local police. The community rooms, where the Boy Scouts meet, are in the mall, facing the parking deck. And yes, there is greenery. A stream still flows through the middle of the property. It is called Mac's Brook. Nobody remembers who Mac was. And it is indeed a brook, not a mighty torrent. But it flows with the blood of citizens who fought to make sure it was not covered by parking lot. Says Griffith, "I am not a big mall person. I go out there four or five times a year." But his daughter loves it, so "my daughter and I have a tradition-she's a sophomore in college nowwhere we go out there at Christmas. To buy something for my wife. The development has gone better than I thought it would. I feel very good about it."
At that, Griffith has really put his finger on something. Even the former elected official recognizes that whatever the public and political functions of 287 and 78, they are at best ancillary to the identity of the place. For all its groundbreaking politics, 287 and 78 still has no overall leader, no political boundaries that define the place. It is governed only by a patchwork of zoning boards and planning boards and county boards and township boards like Bridgewater's, swirling like gnats-not any elected ruling structure.
Of course, this has not always been bad for cities. For thousands of years, Babylonia was ruled by a Council of the Godswhat Americans would call an Establishment. Perhaps as Edge Cities age and mellow, they will push for formal incorporation to gain powers and perks and titles like Lord High Mayor.
But right now, as Griffith's new Christmas tradition with his daughter indicates, what really shapes the Edge City of 287 and 78 is the historical force of commerce more than governance. After all, Bridgewater Commons is a mall. Not that that is any disgrace. Venice, Milan, and Marseille all originally were monuments far more to commerce than to industry. No less an authority than Jane Jacobs, in her landmark work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, notes how commerce is the measure of urbanity: "Diversity is natural to big cities. Classified telephone directories tell us the greatest single fact about cities: the great number of parts."
In fact, if you have any doubts that commerce is a definer of "city," I commend to your attention the retail establishments in the next several hundred miles west of 287 and 78. "There really is no fashion whatsoever from here to Pittsburgh," says David Richmond, Bridgewater Commons' general manager. "I'm not kidding. Lord &Taylor basically has a free swing. People drive tremendous distances. We pull from three states." Nor is this attraction the only source of diversity. The carts set up at the center of the mall are the incubators of the shops of the future, Richmond hopes. Local one-of-a-kind operators sell clever toy blocks in fantastic shapes or hand-made fashions crafted from old tapestry. If they succeed, these entrepreneurs will graduate to renting serious boutique space, Richmond figures. If they go national someday, he knew them when.
For that matter, the most discussed harbinger of civilization when I was in 287 and 78 was the expansion of the King's supermarket chain. If you faxed in your order, the groceries would be waiting for you when you arrived. Its fresh prepared foods were so oriented to the two-career couple that one working woman said with a sigh, "I live there." Most important, the gourmet delicatessen and bakery spread was shockingly close to ethnic-neighborhood quality. (The bagels and lox were "as good as New York-as good as Zabar's," claimed one devotee, not entirely hyperbolically.) One February at a King's at the foot of the ramps to 287 and 78 1 encountered soft, fragrant strawberries near a substantial display of creme fraiche. You don't see a lot of creme fraiche in Harrisburg or Altoona. Or, for that matter, in Pittsburgh.
More interesting than the actual commerce that occurs in Edge City is the way its institutions shape our lives. Take the city-shaping category "safety."
For all its newness, Edge City is in some ways more faithful to city traditions than the old downtown. Believe it or not, one of the founding premises of cities-from the beginning of fixed settlements eight thousand years ago-was that you were safer inside one than out. First, people clustered around leaders with a successful track record against wolves, alligators, and big cats. "The archetypal chieftain in Sumerian legend is Gilgamesh: the heroic hunter, the strong protector, not least significantly, the builder of the wall around Uruk," writes Lewis Mumford in The City in History. Those evolved into the medieval walls of Vienna, raised against the Turks, as well as walled cities from Avignon to Fez. Walled cities with gates that closed at night existed in China in this century. In America, the walled city was immortalized by frontier stockades like Fort Laramie, Wyoming.
Edge City functions very similarly. "The bedrock attribute of a successful city district is that a person must feel personally safe and secure on the street among all these strangers," writes Jane Jacobs, stressing the importance of safety in her very first chapter. For better or for worse, there is not an endless number of such places today in America. Two that come to mind are our sports stadiums and Edge City's village square-the enclosed shopping mall.
Actually, William Jackson is not so sure about the sports stadiums. "Only when they're winning," he says, thinking of the last time he was at a Giants game at the Meadowlands. "And only when you're in the stadium." Jackson is the senior project manager of 287 and 78's Bridgewater Commons, the man who oversaw its design and construction. "I've walked from the parking lot to the stadium and not felt safe at all. When you walk across the turnpike, there's a very narrow crossover bridge. It's like when you get off the subway in New York and all of a sudden everybody's on the staircase. You don't know who's behind you and who's beside you and what he's going to pull out of your pocket and what he's going to pull out of his pocket. You arther than would be comfortable even outdoors in a park, much less a supermarket.
This is not for lack of crime. Shoplifting is always an issue, and some of the mall rats without question deal drugs. One mother recently reported a pair of people at Bridgewater Commons attempting, unsuccessfully, to snatch her stroller with her child and her purse still in it. However, this foiled attempt was viewed as sufficiently unusual to merit major newspaper attention. In such places, there is generally not much violence. Nine million people a year come through the doors of Bridgewater Commons. In the first two years of its existence, the number of assaults reported to the police was two.
This is because Edge Cities have privatized the domains in which large numbers of strangers come together. Edge Cities grew up in the midst of what originally had been residential suburbia. No matter how heterogeneous the population ]'!Is becoming, the values of the territory's settlers survive. Sociologists who lamented the flight to suburbia claimed the middle class had abandoned the concept of city. They were wrong. The middle class simply built a new kind of city that functions in a Spanish style. It brought its quasi-public spaces in behind high walls, into the atria, open to the sun streaming through the skylights of the courtyards. There, patrol and control can operate at a high level.
"It's pretty hard to walk on my property without seeing some sort of highly visible security," says Jackson. Guards wear uniforms that look like those of the Marines. "I don't want them to be shy and subtle. I want them to be very overt." The gumball machine lights on the patrol trucks go on at the drop of a lug nut. Even if these paladins are only helping somebody change a flat tire, they do it with stark orange flashers. A local Explorer Scout unit occasionally scans the place from the roof with binoculars. At Christmas, the mall is patrolled on horseback. That's good community relations: the horse is a former member of the Philadelphia Police Department owned by the local animal-control officer who likes to keep his mount's skills sharp by working him amid people and cars. It's also beautiful public relations: children want to pet the horse. The horse patrol has tremendous visibility: the officer sits up so high that he can see and be seen for great distances. The pair can cruise real slow if that seems right. And they are intimidating-it's a big horse.
"You're in a toughie situation," sayJackson. "We're not police and we'll never usurp the police power." But Jackson gladly does everything he can to blur the line. He wants the township's police to have "a knowledge of the center that is very intimate." The chief of police is encouraged to lunch in the food court. The patrol officers are encouraged to park their cruisers in the deck, get out, and walk around. Even the normally desk-bound dispatchers are wooed with awards plaques and private tours. "There's definitely a symbiotic relationship. The police have a substation here. In the mall, sure. I'm trying to encourage that coordination to the nth degree. We have a police liaison who just happens to be the juvenile officer for the high schools and the township. Most high school kids, they're very good and well behaved. You will only have a small segment with problems. We recognize them by sight and we ban them. We are private property. Arrest them for trespass and ban them.
"Kids on average will have in their pockets $25 apiece when they walk in the door. We know that. When they leave they are much better than their parents because they leave almost to the penny with nothing. When you stop and think about it, that is very strong economics. You don't want to just arbitrarily throw them out. But being private property, that does give me a lot of rights. High-spirited youth can be escorted off. Quietly, subtly, but out of the picture."
"Sharper Image controls who they let in their store," Richmond picks up. "They have somebody watching who's coming in. Sometimes they have a greeter at the door say 'There's a limit. You can't go in until somebody leaves because there's too many people in there.' Kids get bored and leave. It's their sales philosophy-they want their salespeople to be able to meet, greet, and sell. And they're looking for shoplifters."
Yet no matter how insidious and sophisticated are the meth-ods by which issues of safety are addressed, Richmond and Jackson see it as only part of a much larger issue-what it takes to make people feel comfortable.
They play that game at a very high level. "See that marble floor there?" Richmond asks. "We used to give it a very high, very bright gloss, but we've toned it down." Why, I ask; did women think they were going to slip? Not that, he says. "We found that it brought out feelings of inadequacy. We brought it down to the level of shine on their own floors."
Richmond had earlier given me a serious market segmentation by mall floor. On the floor for the affluent, he said, prime customers on weekdays were wives of those senior executives who were in their late fifties. On Saturday and Sunday, it became the territory of women who were thirty-eight, had 2.3 kids, and were working. I thought he was pulling my leg with data that precise and started to josh him. He cut me off. "I've got my marketing staff if you'd like to talk to them," he said stiffly. They do not kid about anything that offers them control.
They take equally seriously the goal of "comfortable." The range of custom-crafted lighting systems for the mall, for example, can be manipulated to create an enormous range of moods, varying according to the time of day, the season, and the crowds. That task is so important that it is handled on a daily basis by Richmond, the manager, himself, not by some flunky. And this devotion to "comfort levels" is not peculiar to Bridgewater Commons or even to malls. In Edge City hotels, offices, and commercial areas, glass elevators and glass stairwells are rarely there for the view out. They are there for the view in. Rape is unlikely in a glass elevator.
Another effort at comfort: the hot trend is to have parking decks with roofs at expensive, "Wasted," warehouselike heights, with light levels appropriate to night baseball. Again, the highest goal is to make women feel safe. The older, more "logical" design, with roofs just tall enough for a car antenna, and lights only bright enough to show car keys, has Alfred Hitchcock overtones.
Similarly, the lawn designs of Edge City office campuses also broadcast their values. One can see a stranger approaching for a quarter of a mile. The inside of a soaring glass office lobby is about as public a place as is ever built in Edge City.
Designers who wish to make Edge City more humane frequently advocate that public parks and public places be added to match the great piazzas of the cities of old. That sounds great. But George Sternlieb of the Center for Urban Policy at Rutgers, points out the reason that there's no equivalent of the old urban parks in Edge City. "They don't want the strangers. If it is a choice between parks and strangers, the people there would sooner do without the parks." In Edge City, about the closest thing you find to a public space-where just about anybody can go-is the parking lot. In Edge City, no commercial center could survive if it had as poor a reputation for safety as do the streets of most downtowns. In Edge City, there are no dark alleys.
In the course of my travels, I never did find any sound, practical, financial, technical, physical, or legal reasons why we could not build more nineteenth-century-style downtowns out at 287 and 78 or anywhere else-if we chose. Yet we do not. Edge City is frequently accused of being the result of no planning. Yet a close examination demonstrates that quite the opposite is the case. The controls exercised in the name of "safety" and "comfort" in Edge City are the result of vast amounts of planning. Also design, money, thought, premeditation, listening to people, and giving them exactly what they say they want.
There are homeless people in Edge City, for example. But they are not found sleeping outside the centers of commerce and industry. Our planning, design, and control of public spaces that are really private property make sure of that. Every Christmas there is a national flap over whether malls will allow the Salvation Army into their domains. But it isn't just a question of charity. It's a question of how much we value safety and comfort. In Edge City there is very little truly "public" space. On purpose.
Can Edge City ever be translated into something as fragile as "identity"? Or as selfless as "community"? We enter the amorphous realms of the last three major city shapers: culture, companionship, and religion. Is Edge City a barren, sterile wasteland of the spirit? Is it merely a "slurb," as decried by the architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable? Does it do nothing but embody "cliché conformity as far as the eye can see?" Does Edge City even deserve to be described by that very word we have inherited from the word "city," the word we use in the English language to describe refinement, learning, and the restraint of base cravings: "civilization"?
A close examination of the everyday lives of a couple like Ron and Nancy Murray is instructive. A careful analysis of how people like the Murrays function in such realms is a significant test of Edge City's claim to urbanity.
The Murrays are worldly people. Nancy Murray has a master's degree in psychology and an M.B.A. She researches what consumers think about AT&T and its products. Her commute from their home in Morristown to the 287 and 78 area in Basking Ridge is twenty minutes. Ron is a computer software consultant who is helping to create a claims system for Blue Cross that will carry it into the next century. His commute to the 287 and 8o area of Florham Park is eighteen minutes.
The Murrays have had a range of experiences with which to compare the texture, spirit, and opportunities of Edge City. Their eleven-month-old son, Gregory, was conceived while they were on vacation in Bali, an island between the Indian Ocean and the Java Sea about as far from 287 and 78 as is possible on this planet. Nancy went to Vassar. Her previous position was with a wall Street bank. Ron's previous life was with Mobil on Forty-second Street, across from Grand Central. They've lived in Greenwich Village. Ron has voyaged through places like Venezuela, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. And they do not hate New York. "New York is exciting," says Ron. "It's a place where you walk down the street and things are happening on every corner. Whether good, bad, or indifferent, they are happening."
"I have a sister who lives in Boston, and when she comes here we have to go into Manhattan," says Nancy. "She finds it exciting to go to the Village and see the interesting types of people, and go to high-priced restaurants and see the European jet set that isn't in New Jersey. It has a whole diverse culture. It's a little bit of fantasy. It's like a TV show in real life. You have South American dictators' wives at the cosmetics counter in Henri Bendel's. It's not your everyday experience."
In fact, the Murrays are self-described "certified New Yorkers." Ron grew up in the South Bronx and moved to the East Side. He didn't learn to drive until he was twenty-four. We're talking hard core, here. When Ron first started working in Edge City, he would travel an hour and a half, each way, to Fiftyseventh Street, to get his hair cut for $45. But then he gave some local salons a try, and after careful analysis he came to the studied conclusion: "To tell you the truth, there's not much difference between the $45 haircut in New York and the $17 haircut in Morristown." It was an internal struggle, but city boy or not, he finally decided: "To travel an hour and a half each way to get a twenty-five-minute haircut, it's not worth it."
Nancy is equally a product of her upbringing. She grew up in a Boston neighborhood that she compares to Brooklyn. She lived on the West Side of Manhattan so long that she says she forgot how to drive. When she got pregnant after they had moved to Morristown, she says, "I just assumed I was going to have a doctor in New York City and have the baby in the city." It came to her attention, though, talking to the members of her Lamaze class, that "they had their babies here and they were treated better-nicer." She has since learned that Edge City hospitals can be large and sophisticated, with neonatal facilities and medivac choppers and all the modern conveniences. They sometimes find it easier, she's discovered, to attract first-rate interns and residents than downtown hospitals do. In fact, she says, if she gets pregnant again, she thinks it just might be possible that she could find a baby doctor west of the Hudson.
They admit, however, that for all their devotion to Manhattan's virtues, a whole new world, a whole new life, opened up like a flower when Mobil transferred them in the mid- 1980s to Texas.
They moved into a brand-new, 2,200-square-foot North Dallas "beautiful sprawling ranch house with lots of room and a nice big yard for the dogs and it was just a so much more pleasant and comfortable way to live," recalls Nancy fondly. "It was tremendous," said Ron. "I lived in a two-room apartment when I was a kid. To me, this-I didn't know that this existed. I much preferred this to living in a two-room apartment in the South Bronx."
They fought the siren song of the late twentieth century to the bitter end, though. These people are tough. They are New Yorkers. "I was going to business school at SMU," recalls Nancy, "and I used to take the bus into downtown Dallas rather than bother driving, and people just thought that was so bizarre. I always used to walk every place and people would see me and they assumed my car had broken down."
It was when they rotated back to Manhattan that their resolve finally crumbled. They sublet an apartment in the Village that their friends considered quite a find. It was, however, "no bigger than that room right here, yeah, the dining room," interjects Ron. "And in New York, that was considered a nice apartment," adds Nancy.
That's what really broke their will. The usual complaints about the dirt, crime, subway, stress, congestion, cost, and taxes of the big city of course were factors. But the idea of having a brand-new house, in which nothing needed fixing, and spaceall the space they could ever use, four fifths of an acre of land, four thousand square feet of house, four bedrooms, a sitting room off the master suite-that's what finally got them looking at Morris County. Then came the clincher. In this new realm, they discovered, challenging work was more plentiful than downtown. And what's more, that work was so close to their home that it was almost a return to a younger world. Nancy could actually come home to see her baby-on her lunch hour.
But what about "companionship," I ask them. Companionship is an issue crucial to the quality of cities-the extent to which it offers a choice of associations.
"The women here are very interesting," reports Nancy of her experience. "It's cosmopolitan. The woman across the street used to be a pharmacist and now has her own advertising firm. One woman I got friendly with at the mothers' group is a documentary film producer. In my exercise class I met a few attorneys. Even the women who don't work right now used to, and they're very intelligent and they always have something to say. They go into the city, they see plays, and whatever. People in the 1960s rebelled against the suburbs as sterile. I wasn't rebelling because I hadn't come from there, so it looked pleasant to me. I never quite understood what they were so upset about. The people who live here aren't country bumpkins. You have all religions and races."
"Let me just go up the neighborhood for you," says Ron. "The guy in the house right here is the medical director of Prudential Life Insurance in Newark. The guy in the next house is the head partner of Price Waterhouse in Short Hills. The next guy up is with The Limited. He's British. The Prudential guy is black. The next guy is from Houston. He travels to the Orient a lot for business."
(Earlier, Finn Caspersen had taken that diversity question and shot back, "There's similarity here, sure, but it's no less a similarity than, say, people living on the East Side of New York City. Manhattan is the most parochial area. You talk about diversity in New York City, you're talking about somebody maybe living in the Village.")
Putting on her psychologist's hat, Nancy ventures, "There are younger single people I work with now-they have much more an upbeat social life. A lot of them are engaged and getting married or they're dating. The women I met in Manhattan-a lot were single people who weren't that happy with the situation at this point in life. I think the old idea that [downtown] is an ideal place for single people-it's one thing to be twenty-one; it's another thing to be thirty or forty or fifty and single. Then they'd find out that it wasn't wonderful to just have one dimension to your life. Their jobs became everything to them. They'd be willing to work till ten or eleven at night because they didn't have anything else that took up their energy. That made for quite an unbalanced type of life style, led to neurotic behaviorpeople would go flipping through my desk to see who was working on what projects. Just really neurotic behavior."
People in Edge City also have changed relationships with nature. They are by no means all benign. But Edge City is a landscape in which more humans are getting closer to other high-order species than at any time in the past century. Edge City is creating a world in which, for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, the majority of the American peoplewhether they know it or not or like it or not-may soon be sharing their territory with fairly large wild animals. In fact, the New Jersey State Plan, unquestionably the most sophisticated growth-management scheme ever attempted statewide in this country, specifically envisions a world in which "corporate campuses are designed as refuges for wildlife" and "our homes in new subdivisions are clustered and adjoin protected natural streams and wooded areas."
American bald eagles winter only twenty miles from 287 and 78, and they are on the increase, according to Jim Sciascia, the principal zoologist with the Endangered and Non-Game Species Program of the New Jersey Division of Fish, Game, and wildlife. There are 150 black bears in the mountains not distant. Some weigh six hundred pounds. Where does a six hundred-pound bear sleep? Not only anywhere it wants. But right around Interstate 287. "Sometimes they get disoriented, or they get harassed, and they go up in a tree and won't come down," reports Sciascia. More than corporate jobs are multiplying in 287 and 78; so are Eastern coyotes. They a
re bigger than western ones, in the small German Shepherd range. Red-tail hawks are a common sight sitting in the trees along Interstate 78, staring at the carefully maintained grassland habitats of the shoulder and median, waiting for rabbits, mice, and rodents to make a break for it.
Edge City changes the ecology in ways that can be unexpected. As with any change that happens quickly, specialized species that do not adapt easily are in big trouble. The vesper sparrow, the upland sandpiper, and other grassland birds are endangered by the decline in pasture in the 287 and 78 area. Wood turtles are endangered by the decline in wetland. The bobolink, savannah sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, and bog turtle are threatened. Neotropical songbirds like the wood thrush, oven bird, and vireo require large tracts of continuous forests for their nests; otherwise, they are raided by more competitive birds.
On the other hand, adaptable species like beaver-not to mention raccoon and skunk-are booming. The result is not wilderness. What remains is a far less diverse ecology than what was there before. But if you measure it by the standard of city, it is a far more diverse ecology than anything humans have built in centuries, if not millennia.
There is a great deal of "edge," in the biological sense of the word, in Edge City, Sciascia notes. Edge is the zone where different ecologies meet-between woodlands and grasslands, for example, or the wetlands between deep water and dry land. Diversity of life abounds in "edge." Edge City has a lot of it because of the way it has a surprising amount of small grassland and woodlots which add up to tremendously large acreage by any historical standard of city. This abundance of edge is "good for prey population," says Sciascia. which is why you find predators there. Including rattlesnakes and copperheads. The Garden State, indeed. Right down to the serpents, Edge City does lay legitimate claim to garden-ness. It is not wild. As in agriculture, it is managed and controlled and selected-for by man. Yet it is an urban civilization in which children are at least as likely to be acquainted with fireflies as they are with cockroaches. A relationship with nature is seen as a key elementsecond only to safety, in the opinion polls-in what makes it a good place to live. You wonder why 76 percent of all Americans consider themselves environmentalists? Perhaps it is because a lot of them live near Edge City.
Sciascia agrees with the New Jersey State Plan that sprawl "compromises the quality of life in our state." He scorns "people who freak out because they don't want to deal with animals" and call him to get rid of critters holed up in their basement or attic. He acknowledges, though, that vastly more numerous are those who "get off on the wildlife." In fact, he says, they lay out so much supplementary food that they contribute to the population explosion, and their neighborhoods offer sanctuary from hunters. There are 150,000 deer in New Jersey. In the Edge City of Princeton, the Institute for Advanced Study had to name a wildlife Control Officer to recruit bow hunters after the deer population increased by a factor of six.
Throughout human evolution, most people lived in the countryside; few in the city. Only in the last century was that order reversed, and cities became top-heavy. Maybe Edge City is reversing it again. The Machine in the Garden, indeed. Despite the best work of the bulldozers, the hottest topic among foresters today is that oxymoron the "countrified city." The good news is that people who live amidst small woodlots take meticulous care of them. The bad news is that a forest fire would be awesome.
Again, this is an attempt at a new equilibrium. It does not involve moving to Montana, but it is by no means a total rejection of the old downtown. Take another measure of urbanity: culture. Nancy Murray acknowledges that eleven-month-old Gregory has changed her habits. But typically, she said, "we used to go out on Saturday night to a nice restaurant or something; maybe half the time we'd go into Manhattan and half the time we'd just stay out here. Then Sunday every three weeks or so we'd try to go in. I joined some Off-Broadway theater groups where you get tickets for the season. And when I was pregnant I got a subscription to the ballet."
In fact, close questioning of the Murrays reveals that for them Manhattan is primarily an entertainment center. And they are not alone. Tourism is now the number one industry in New York City-ahead of financial services. It is also the fastest growing. This is good news for many of the old city's most fragile and important institutions, from the theater to the symphony.
Many urban visionaries who have nobly devoted their entire lives to reviving the old downtown see the rise of Edge City as nothing but a threat. Every time a corporate headquarters leaves town for literally greener pastures, they bleed. They make it clear that they believe settlement patterns to be a zero-sum game. They assume that to the extent Edge City gains, their beloved downtown-and, by extension, Western civilization loses.
The more I looked into this, however, the less evidence I found to support their theory. In the last decade, the downtowns have been going through their most striking revivals of this century. From coast to coast-Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle-downtowns are flourishing. Downtowns that no prudent person would have bet a week's pay on twenty years ago-Los Angeles, Baltimore, even, my God, Trenton-are back. Manhattan went from bankruptcy to, for better or for worse, the Gilded Age of Donald Trump.
These downtowns were reborn at exactly the same time as Edge Cities boomed. Maybe it is only a coincidence. But maybe not. It may be that Edge Cities, by relieving the downtowns of trying to be all things to all people, actually did them a favor. The creation of new industry may be inherently messy and chaotic. Maybe moving it out to Edge Cities is what allowed us to look with fresh eyes at our downtowns. Tear up the old docks, for example, now that freighters no longer tie up there. Return the waterfront to the people. Build a South Street Seaport or a Battery Park City. Transform the old warehouses and lofts into condominiums and shops. It is as if our downtowns have become antiques, in the best sense of that word. Edge Cities may represent the everyday furniture of our lives, but we recognize the downtowns as something to be cosseted and preserved. The New Yorker magazine writer Tony Hiss has even suggested that it was misguided for Manhattan to compete with its surrounding Edge Cities for so much new office space in the 1980s. He feels that the old city would have been better served by preserving the sense of place that had been layered up there over the generations. "Tourists don't like to visit office districts," he points out in The Experience of Place. "Their interests are in seeing safe, beautiful, interesting places-places that afford vivid and memorable experiences."
Whatever the case, the greatest glory of our old downtownstheir world-class museums and theaters-have been injected with new life. The more Edge Cities boomed, the more different places were created within the metropolitan region in which to locate high-paying work places. To the extent that this provided more opportunities for well-to-do people to make a living in the area, it yielded more patrons overall for downtown institutions of minority high culture like opera. If it were not for the attractions of 287 and 78, the Murrays might not be buying tickets to Off-Broadway. They might still be in Texas, fundraising for a ballet there.
Edge Cities may even be helping with the social problems of the old downtowns. The corporations of elite Princeton-Route 1 are taking an unprecedented, even flabbergasting, interest in the schools of gritty-city Trenton. They now realize that is where their future labor force will come from. Trenton is also a source of affordable housing. Huge old Victorians that, in the mid-1970s, were viewed as worthless dinosaurs, fetching $22,000 apiece, are now valued at more than $220,000. It defies description how enormous a change this is in only fifteen years in this once bombed-out burg. It was started by the scores of people who refused to let the old city die, no matter the personal cost. It was further enabled by a state government that would not abandon the state capital, in which George Washington clobbered the Hessians after crossing the Delaware.
But the renaissance could not have happened without money. And the source of jobs in America today is Edge City. That is why the future of downtown would actually appear to be secured by Edge City. Edge City pushes wealth back into blighted areas of the old downtown as its companies seek less expensive housing and labor. Downtown also offers Edge City visitors the amenities of a place built in an earlier era. This is especially attractive for the young and single and those otherwise without children in need of the kind of stimulation only a full-blown arts district can provide.
You can see this symbiosis starting between the Edge City of Cherry Hill and the mean streets of Camden, as with 287 and 78 and both New Brunswick and Allentown. It is hardly a panacea; jobs and housing should be in better balance. But many innercity residents have found that making long journeys to jobs in Edge City is better than having no jobs at all.
After all, when it comes to the location of our homes, we Americans have been voting with our feet for some time now. Eighty-eight percent of all Americans live outside what has traditionally been defined as a big city-the political boundaries of a place at least the size of El Paso, with half a million population. (Only 8 percent of all Americans live in politically defined cities with more than a million population, like Los Angeles.)
Thus, it could be that without Edge City underpinning our society, the plight of the old downtowns would have been immeasurably worse. After all, metros like Phoenix have demonstrated that you can have many successful Edge Cities without much of a downtown. But places like St. Louis show that heroic efforts to revive downtown are only marginally successful in the absence of the economics that vigorously produce Edge Cities.
In fact, the relationship of Edge City to the old downtown may be parallel to how most people in this country experience the performing arts. Recordings will never replace live performances. In the late twentieth century, though, we usually meet human needs by commodifying them. Even the most dedicated disciple of Mozart buys more compact discs than performance tickets. If an American today has a yen for the finest acting, she'll most commonly go out and rent some at a video store, like any sensible human being.
This is certainly what the Murrays do. "I like to get one foreign film for the weekend," says Nancy. "Pelle the Conqueror was one I had out two weeks ago. This week it's a Chinese film, Eat a Bowl of Tea. I used to really like going to the ballet. Now they have some good ballet tapes. Gregory loves it. The music calms him down if he's cranky. I waltz around with him."
This is not to say there are no live performances in Edge City. The local brags include the Shakespeare Festival at Drew, the Metropolitan Opera performing at Waterloo Village, the McCarter Theatre at Princeton, and the Playwrights Theatre in Madison. But even if the commodity you require is to have your soul lifted, the place to go is Bridgewater Commons. Select-aTicket inside the main entrance one weekend was offering access to The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, Eric Clapton at the Hartford, Connecticut, Civic Center, Cher at the Sands in Atlantic City, the International Opera Festival at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands, and Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash together at the Nassau Coliseum.
If the arts have any real problem in Edge City, thinks the urban designer Patricia L. Faux, it is simply that the founders of Edge City aren't dead yet. Palaces of the arts usually aren't built until the crusty old buzzards croak and the children give the money away.
Americans today spend more money attending cultural events than they do on spectator sports. That is way up from 1970, when, according to the National Endowment for the Humanities, we spent twice as much on sports. This increase is concurrent with the rise of Edge City, as well as the dispersal of the American population to the South and West. It would seem logical, then, that if there can be a serious dance company called Ballet Oklahoma, which there is, or an Alabama Shakespeare Festival that attracts 150,000 people, it's possible to locate high culture in Edge City.
There are two kinds of cultural activity, Faux points out. Active, when the art is being created. And passive, when it is being shown off. Many medium-sized downtowns, such as Fort Worth and Louisville, are setting up "culture districts" designed to support artists both as they are working and as they are displaying their art. She sees no reason that the idea won't be worked into Edge City in the future. It wouldn't surprise her, in fact, if an Edge City culture district ended up looking like a mall. After all, Edge City is the creation of people with money. If they want "culture," they'll doubtless get it. Especially if they're nursing a nagging inferiority complex, and they think of a palace of culture, locally applied, as a hot, soft, moist poultice on their egos.
The glitziest temple of high culture built in California in the last decade, in fact, is the $73-million, three thousand-seat Performing Arts Center in the Edge City of Costa Mesa, in Orange County, near Irvine. It was completely privately financed. You can almost toss a croissant to it from South Coast Plaza--the most lavish mall in America, which does more retail business in a day than does all of downtown San Francisco. And that is not a coincidence, I think. The Orange County Performing Arts Center is across from the first mall in North America in which I encountered valet parking.
Compared to "culture" and "companionship," the seventh definer of cities is a less comfortable fit in Edge City. It is "religion"-that binder of people together into congregations.
Lewis Mumford saw the start of cities in the most distant tunes in cemeteries. In their wanderings, dawn humans first began to distinguish themselves from other animals in the ritualistic burial of their dead and their desire to return to those burial places. Mumford writes:
In these ancient paleolithic sanctuaries, as in the first grave mounds and tombs, we have, if anywhere, the first hints of civic life, probably well before a permanent village settlement can even be suspected.
This was no mere coming together during the mating season, no famished return to a sure source of water or food, no occasional interchange, in some convenient tabooed spot, of amber, salt, jade, or even perhaps tools. Here, in the ceremonial center, is an association dedicated to a life more abundant: not merely an increase of food, but an increase of social enjoyment through the fuller use of symbolized fantasy and art, with a shared vision of a better life, more meaningful as well as aesthetically enchanting, such a good life in embryo as Aristotle would one day describe in the Politics: the first glimpse of Utopia.
In Edge Cities, there is still the occasional cemetery here and there. But if it is ever seen as "the first glimpse of Utopia," it is only a wistful real estate agent heaving a sigh, recalling the day when land was so cheap here, people buried their dead in it.
Churches are the same way. They are not anathema to Edge Cities. One Houston developer approves of the one next to the Galleria as a "noncompeting low-density use." But the closest thing I've seen to a cathedral in Edge City is Buckhead Plaza, north of downtown Atlanta. You don't every day see twentystory, 400,000-square-foot office buildings like this with flying buttresses, accent-spike gargoyles, and a gabled copper roof. If, in fact, one argues that a city is always a monument to the worship of something, it is clear that Edge City worships a prevailing god not the same as the one celebrated in the design of Jerusalem, Rome, Mecca, Kyoto, and Beijing. But does this really mark any change in America?
While the Pilgrims came to America in 1620 to worship as they chose-and, even more important, to prevent other people from worshiping as they chose-that has rarely been the end-all of other American settlements. Cotton Mather wrote of the Massachusetts minister who urged a congregation on the rocky coast of Maine to "walk in the paths of righteousness and piety so that they would not 'contradict the main end of Planting this wilderness.' " At which point a prominent resident blurted out, "Sir, you are mistaken. You think you are Preaching to the People at the Bay; our main End was to catch Fish."
Just so, the catching of fish has always been the purpose of cities of North America. Most Americans moved out to the frontier to get rich. It's unusual to an American to think of a city as primarily a focus of religion. Salt Lake City has our only celebrated Temple Square.
Americans are about as religious today as they have ever been. Overwhelmingly, they tell pollsters they believe in God. They still flock to the ministry. To be sure, our elites tend to do neither. But that just results in a relationship between the ruling class and the masses in America that demographers have described as the spiritual equivalent of "a Sweden on top of an India."
Even for those Americans who are religious, however, close proximity to a physical monument to God seems not all that important. It is antique to hear a person describe himself in terms of "parish." A large modern church functions like nothing so much as a spiritual shopping mall. It is surrounded by a very large parking lot located astride a good network of roads. If the traffic patterns yield an affordable location in the midst of Edge City, then so be it-the church becomes part of the city.
Otherwise, and far more typically, there is apparently no reason for any "ceremonial centers" dedicated to a "life more abundant" to be at the core of Edge City.
Those are built in residential areas. The land is cheaper there.
The thick wooden floor planks resound with a nice thunk as one crosses the covered bridge over Mac's Brook at Bridgewater Commons. Even though spring is only a promise and the watchung Mountains are a cold gold in the late afternoon sun, the sound of the brook is soothing. It meanders through reeds and prickly snare and cedar and low willow in an unpremeditated way. Trails lead off this way and that, but they are low to the ground, arched and domed by vines. They were clearly shaped by animals no taller than a doe.
Down the path from the bridge and the water there is a goodsized gazebo of pressure-treated wood. At first, still in the thrall of the spirit of the stream, my heart sank at the sight of graffiti. But on closer examination, the marks turned out to be not so much the work of vandals. They were more like that of healthy young primates marking their space. "Lie here and dream," somebody had written over one of the benches that edge the interior of the octagon. I did. The sky was moving. Grasses waved. There was no one else around. It was very peaceful.
For all the messages on the gazebo, surprisingly few were coarse. Many invoked the names of revered bands. Others were wry. First message: "I V Heather-From Larry." Below it: "I V Larry Forever." Third line: "He likes a different Heather."
But most of the writing reflected attempts to grapple with the world we have built for these kids:
"And I wear black on the outside because black is how I feel on the inside, and if I seem a little strange, well that's because I am."
"You love to say you've loved, but in all reality you have no concept of what that means."
Pomposity was punctured: First graffito: "Words of wisdom: Be excellent to each other." Second line: "Other words of wisdom: Don't have sex at this gazebo."
Yet overwhelmingly, the wisdom was that of teens from time immemorial:
"Leslie is childish."
"When all else fails, blame it on Sean."
The covered bridge and gazebo at Bridgewater Commons don't look like much from the food court on the third floor, or from the ring road at thirty miles an hour. From those perspectives they seem so small, so peripheral to the forces of Mammon, as to appear almost forlorn. In fact, as Susan Gruel drove me around, she pointed out the greenspace that had been saved here, and the outdoor plaza that was fought for there, and the way the mall had been turned around so that its main entrance would face not the interstate, but the small road that brings the local people here. She told the story of the little concert pit that was built over to the side of the mall. She first saw one just like it in a vest-pocket park when she was visiting her sister in Oklahoma City. People were sitting all around its steps, playing guitars in an ad lib concert, and she figured that would be great for Bridgewater, so she brought the idea home. The concert pit was empty this day, however. Afraid that, through the eyes of a stranger, it didn't look like much, she got quieter and quieter. Then she said, softly, of the amenities she and so many others had fought for: "I guess it depends on the way you look at it, whether you see it or not. But it was there, at least on the plans."
"Edge City is an adaptable creature," said Pamela Manfre later. She is a Washington consultant on the subject with whom I had been discussing my travels. "It fixes itself. It redefines itself. It's almost as if we're working out equations. We 'solve for' problems. We 'solve for' commutes. And then we 'solve for' sterility. And then we 'solve for' choice."
Manfre's vote of confidence came with a little added weight that day, because, although she had made partner at the age of twenty-eight, running the national capital office of a high-flying coast-to-coast firm, she announced she had just quit. She couldn't totally explain it herself, she said. She was, she insisted, the staunchest of free-enterprise Republicans. It was by no means that she'd become a bleeding heart or anything. But it had finally dawned on her that this affordable housing thing out there in Edge City was going to have to get solved. People had to take responsibility. If people like her didn't do it, nobody else was going to. She thought she could see clearly the path that needed to be taken; she was bubbling over with plans. So what the hell. She was going for it.
"We make a lot of mistakes, but we learn," she concluded. "And in this culture, we let that happen more than in those with governments that try to protect people from their mistakes. We just go out there and do it."
One hopes that's true, and I have to admit that at the end of my visit with Susan Gruel, I found myself almost involuntarily stepping out of the reporter role to buck her up a little, to tell her that I did not think her efforts to honor the spirit of her place had been in vain. For Bridgewater Commons, after all, is a firstgeneration vision. It is an experimental effort in a national work in progress. Who knows whether it will ever be repeated. Who cares? The important part is that it was put together by individual citizens of no particular authority who were determined to bring life to their world. They didn't know that there might be "experts" out there who thought it was impossible. But then again, they weren't operating at the same scale as the experts. They were simply trying to come up with a better center for the people of their Edge City.
With this in mind, I walked back down Susan Gruel's parkbench-lined courtyard that separated the parking lots as Moses did the Red Sea. And I went back and ran my hand over the fieldstone that the people of Bridgewater had insisted be used to build the footings for the covered bridge. That's a material widely used in the walls of these parts, they had said, stubbornly, and they wanted some in their new place. They didn't much care whether the experts thought it fit into the design of the mall. Any more than they were going to let anyone laugh at Mac's Brook and say it didn't amount to spit, and it should just be buried in a culvert. Those experts, after all, have come and gone, and Mac's Brook and the people of Bridgewater flow on.
And so do the kids. The kids like that gazebo their elders cared enough to build for them near the mall, and they have made it their own. They have noticed that Mac's Brook has a nice wild feel to it, and surprising solitude, even if you can occasionally pick up the distant smell of french fries. It even looks like a stream by which it would be good to read a book.
In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if one spring day some outcast, some kid who doesn't fit in to the food-court crowd, even discovers Susan Gruel's little concrete music hollow.
He might even bring his guitar. And sit down and begin to play.