This article is part of the The Great American Reach Around series.
New Jersey is one of the most misunderstood states in the Union. When people think of New Jersey, and I include myself in this, they picture slums and urban sprawl. What they're picturing is Jersey City and Newark, New Jersey's two biggest urban areas and what amounts to suburbs of New York City. They also could be picturing Camden, the slimy runoff of Philadelphia. The reality is that much of the rest of New Jersey is absolutely nothing like this and there is a great deal of natural beauty to be found.
New Jersey's founders even tried to dispel this image with their PR-conscious nickname of "Garden State." The name was chosen following an incident in 1762 when Benjamin Franklin had the top knuckles of all of his fingers chewed off by a pack of feral Italian children while he was sleeping in a whorehouse in Newark. Franklin wrote a scandalous article in a colonial digest accusing Newark of being home to gangs of "Mediterranean cannibals". Luckily, his nickname of "Wop Abattoir" never stuck.
For New Jersey I have tried to explore the side of the state furthest from the looming shadow of New York City. Let's check out…
Like much of the Northeast, Paterson is positively encrusted with historic buildings and monuments. The once-bustling downtown area has been largely vacated in favor of strip malls and big-box retailers in suburban Paterson, but the buildings are nice to look at if you can ignore the giant signs for dollar stores and nail salons.
Economic depression resulting from globalization of industry in the 1970s and 1980s is a common theme in these articles. Paterson has certainly suffered its share, but I'm pretty optimistic it will recover.
A spate of new construction and the gentrification of areas that had fallen into disrepair are indications that Paterson may be fighting its way back to the head of the class. The ethnic diversity of the city that is the source of a fair amount of strife has also created a vibrant selection of restaurants, stores, and ethnic shops. The People's Park neighborhood is rich with South American flair and the south side of Paterson has a large middle eastern immigrant community.
In many ways Paterson is a reflection of the good and the bad of the Northeast. Its crime and poverty are contrasted against diversity, tolerance, culture, a rich history, and a beautiful environment. It is a middle class city that is finding its way back to prosperity.
And it doesn't smell like Jersey City.
Now we continue into the foreign portion of this article, beginning our journey in Lutterworth, England.
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