Friday, January 25, 2008

Palisades Avenue, Englewood, NJ

Some Main Streets go by other names.  In Englewood, Main Street is Palisades Avenue.  The Ave, as locals like to call it, runs from the Palisades, along the Hudson, to the border of Teaneck, Englewood's neighbor to the west.  The Englewood central business district extends from Grand Avenue to the Monument at Liberty Road.  

The Ave, like Main Street in Orange, has lots of history.  George Washington and his troops retreated from British Army, passing that way.  The Monument honors the sacrifices of men from Englewood who gave their lives in World War I.  The major city institutions are located here, comfortably close to each other and to the old train station.  This Cosmos of Main Things gives the city an inherent logic.  The logic has been weakened by the re-orientation of the city away from the train towards Route 4 and the George Washington Bridge.  Though this wrenching dislocation was years ago, it still reverbates through the town.

The railroad tracks, running perpendicular to the Ave, work with this main street to create a four-part structure to the city.  The quadrants vary by race and class,  reflecting an old system of segregation.  It is not easy to get from one sector to another -- the Ave is very important in the architecture of Englewood because it passes straight through town.  Similarly, Grand Avenue and Dean Street, which parallel the train tracks, are essential for north-south movement.  Other streets just don't make it from one side of town to the other.  It makes me think that, back in the day, people were supposed to stay home.  Maybe they still are?

The interesting division in town is represented on Palisades Avenue by a sharp demarcation. Depending on how you look it, no "people" can be found on the "other" side, meaning none of your "people."  The demarcation, like other things, has altered with time.  
I explored these changes with Sadie Greene-Kaufman, who grew up in Englewood.  Now a college student at SUNY Stony Brook, she commented,  "It used to be that the tracks were exactly where the two sides separated.  On one side, were the cool Colombian restaurants.  On the other side were fancier stores.  Both sides have changed.  The stores are fancier than they were, and the new luxury apartments have replaced many old stores just west of the train tracks.  For my eighth grade formal, I shopped in Englewood because that was where you could find dresses no one else had.  But now the stores have the dresses that you can find anywhere.  I find some of the originality is lost."  

Citizens in Englewood are an active bunch.  The Englewood Report is one excellent site for following local commentary as people consider how to manage the changes for the best.  The Ave, with its potent history and crucial placement, holds the key.  

No comments: