For anyone who grew up in Hudson County during any of the hundred years before Liberty State Park opened in 1976, there was effectively no local waterfront to enjoy. Railroads and the industries that followed them occupied every square foot of our shoreline along the Hudson River, leaving not an inch for recreation and quiet enjoyment. And when those rail lines and factories began to close after WWII, our waterfront became a place of soul-crushing abandonment and utter decay.
The idea of reclaiming a swath of that wasteland to give back to the people didn't come from some powerful government commission or ambitious politicians. Rather, the vision to create Liberty Park came from the people themselves -- civic activists and volunteers who lived here and simply understood how much better local life would be for everyone if we all had a free, open and green refuge in which to escape the confines of our apartments and congested streets. They envisioned a place where anyone could take in one of the marvels of the modern world, the Manhattan skyline, while also enjoying nature along the shore of one of her greatest wonders, the Hudson River. If you lived here at the time, you remember the sense of reclamation and revelation when you first had the chance to enjoy our waterfront. If you've lived here at any point since, you have come to take the wonder of Liberty State Park as an indispensable part of your life and all our lives as a community.
Liberty Park came into being because those activists lobbied, cajoled and sometimes fought politicians who did not have their insight, which is now so manifestly obvious. And the Park has remained true to its founding vision because later activists called Friends of Liberty State Park have stopped later politicians who would have thoughtlessly sacrificed a public place of quiet recreation just to promote private commercial interests.
So the fate of Liberty State Park matters to us all for two reasons: Clearly, the Park is one of the most successful, progressive urban resources in the United States, and is absolutely vital to the quality of life and appeal of Hudson County and our whole region. But Liberty Park also matters because of how it was created and has been safeguarded. People got involved and understood better than most in government what their community needs, and they worked selflessly and successfully to make it happen. Friends of Liberty State Park have exemplified the role civic groups must play in fostering activism, focusing attention and pursuing the public good. There is no better proof that the ideal of American democracy works. It's an example that inspires.
Language stuck into state legislation at the last minute would effectively hobble the ability of the people to continue to guide their Park by taking it away from the Department of Environmental Protection and the process of public hearings and oversight which has ensured that everyone who uses and appreciates Liberty State Park can have a say in safeguarding it. Instead, this ill-considered legislation would hand control of the Park's fate over to a largely autonomous government commission heavily influenced by the governor's office. In this, many commentators see the dark foreshadowing of "privatization" and schemes to generate revenue that would radically diminish the Park's extraordinary value as a quiet, non-commercial oasis for all people. Much more about this can be read at http://www.folsp.org/meadowlands_act.htm.
More than just a prime example of government overreach to fix something that is decidedly not broken, this action is an unwarranted attack on one of the best models of civic activism and public participation in New Jersey and all America. This can only worsen the creeping cynicism and disillusionment that is already undermining our democracy. It will further discourage people from believing that they can and should work to make a difference.
The Landmark Loew's Jersey Theatre was saved and reopened by the same kind of civic spirit and involvement that created and guided Liberty State Park. Those of us who began the effort to save the Loew's were inspired in part by the example of Liberty Park. Any action to diminish public oversight of Liberty State Park and disregard the insight and guidance of Friends of Liberty State Park is, in a real sense, an attack against the Loew's and all causes that must be achieved and upheld through civic activism. So we urge everyone who now appreciates and enjoys the Loew's to let Gov. Chris Christie and the New Jersey Legislature know that the unwise attempt to shut out the people from guiding and safeguarding Liberty State Park must be rescinded because civic activism and what it accomplishes is a vital part of American democracy.
Gov. Christie's Office can be reached at 609-292-6000.