Welcome to the first match up in our Sweet 16 Round of the Strongest Town Competition. We invite you to read the answers that representatives from these two towns provided to questions about transportation, incremental growth, adapting to challenges, and more. Please scroll down to the bottom to vote!


Collingswood, NJ

Entry submitted by: Devin Turner, Joseph Russell, Jason Miller, Lewis Bivona

Describe your town's transportation system and what transportation options are available for residents.

The Borough of Collingswood's intermodal accessibility is one of its greatest strengths. While the borough has very solid road access to Philadelphia, Camden, and South Jersey suburban job centers, it also boasts one of the five 24/7 heavy rail lines operating in the United States. This line, called PATCO (Port Authority Transit Corporation), allow commuters to reach downtown Camden in under five minutes and Center City Philadelphia in under 15 minutes. There are also two bus lines from Camden that provide service to the borough, albeit at less-than-useful two hour-headways.

Collingswood's walkability and bike-friendliness are also significant factors in its popularity. The borough has a Walk Score of 87 along the core of the downtown district along Haddon Avenue and the borough has directly funded a "Collingswood Bike Share" program, where volunteers donate their time to fix donated bikes and lease them out to borough residents for around $20/year.

While the borough's many county roads have made the process of creating bike lanes somewhat difficult, the borough's history as a trolley suburb for Camden means that the vast majority of roads are better suited for bikes than cars and the borough has aggressively pursued expanded bike parking along the commercial corridor and at the PATCO transit station.

Collingswood’s development over the past few decades has focused almost solely on incremental development, specifically on ensuring that borough assets are rehabilitated, instead of torn down in favor for unnecessary new and auto-oriented construction.

Give an example of an incremental project that your town has undertaken.

Collingswood’s development over the past few decades has focused almost solely on incremental development, specifically on ensuring that borough assets are rehabilitated, instead of torn down in favor for unnecessary new and auto-oriented construction. Perhaps the best example of this was the redevelopment of an abandoned public school on the eastern end of Haddon Avenue. Having sat empty following a stint as a recording studio for a firebrand pastor, the school was falling apart and developers advised that borough that the best option would be to tear down the eyesore of a building in order to grow the borough. Luckily, the borough was able to find a visionary partner in Kitchen & Associates, an architectural firm looking for a new office space with unique architectural touches. In partnership with the borough, the firm redeveloped the space and kept as many of the school house eccentricities as possible, such as the old coat racks and front desk, and transformed the former eyesore into a beautiful classic property whose regal steps serve as the stage for carolers during the boroughs many pre-Christmas concerts.

Describe how residents of your town are actively involved in local decision making.

Collingswood residents are incredibly active in the community, both in matters of borough policy making and community events. The borough commissioners host two open forums a year to obtain direct feedback from the community and also maintain a very active presence on borough social media pages, allowing residents to provide suggestions outside of biannual forums.

When it comes to community events or ideas, the borough's Mayor Jim Maley, is often fond of reminding residents that the commission is open to any ideas, but that the person making suggestions is likely to become head of the planning committee. That clearly has not swayed Collingswood residents from volunteering their time and creative energy to create and grow events like the borough's annual May Fair, Book Fair, and Green Fair (among many others), which see the entire thoroughfare of Haddon Avenue shut down to traffic to create a massive pedestrian zone for residents and visitors alike. The borough's May-November farmer's market was a similar bottom-up project that has grown over the past few years to be one of the largest in the Philadelphia area, attracting shoppers from the city who are eager to get their hands on Jersey Fresh produce.

The borough focused on development that encourages organic growth of the town, choosing, for example, to favor a mixed-used and walkable development of the lumber yard lot, instead of caving to the demands of a national drug store chain to create a store with a sea of parking.

Tell us a story about how your town adapted to a challenge in some way.

Collingswood’s thriving community would strike some as an inevitability, given its geographic location and solid pre-war walkable infrastructure, but the borough was in relatively dire straits in the 1980s, as regional malls pulled away shoppers from Haddon Avenue and Camden’s industrial decline began to impact its neighbors. As businesses closed and prime locations on Haddon Avenue went vacant, the town elected the current team of borough commissioners who embarked on an ambitious series of redevelopment efforts aimed at slowing the bleeding and envisioning a borough that could grow in the coming decades. The borough focused its efforts on incremental development of the downtown and partnered with smaller developers to redevelop sites like the aforementioned abandoned public school and a former lumber yard. In both cases, the borough focused on development that encourages organic growth of the town, choosing, for example, to favor a mixed-used and walkable development of the lumber yard lot, instead of caving to the demands of a national drug store chain to create a store with a sea of parking.  While the Great Recession ended up hobbling the borough and its finances when it came to the lumber yard development, the commissioners’ long-term vision for the sight proved to be accurate, with apartments leasing at Philadelphia Center City levels due to the accessibility and amenities that have grown up around the extension of the commercial district.

Does you town have a central "downtown" or district? If so, please describe this place.

Collingswood's "downtown" is the main thoroughfare through the borough, Haddon Avenue. Built as a street car route from Camden to the wealthy Quaker borough of Haddonfield three miles to the east of Collingswood, Haddon Avenue from Collingswood to Haddonfield is extremely walkable and encourages residents and visitors alike to get out of their cars to shop and dine. These “good bones”, coupled with decades of redevelopment work by the borough commissioners and numerous dedicated volunteers and business people, has resulted in a thriving commercial district with a clear bent towards restaurants, giving the borough the unofficial title of Restaurant Capital of South Jersey. The borough also has many art galleries, two co-working spaces, two coffee houses, and coffee roaster, and plans to welcome a brewery (the first of its kind in the “dry” former Quaker community).

What is your favorite thing about your town?

Standing on the transit platform at the Collingswood PATCO station, you can see the entire skyline of Philadelphia; it's a great reminder that even though Collingswood is a fantastic walkable community, it has direct transit access to the second densest downtown in the country. With a transit time to Philadelphia under 15 minutes, this is not a one-way connection, but a fluid lifeline that allows for the dissemination of cultural and culinary ideas from the city at an amazing rate, as artists and chefs working in the city can come back to the borough and share their knowledge in the borough's many cultural and culinary venues.  In short, while many bedroom communities tend to be focused solely on access to the city, leaving the communities themselves very plain, Collingswood's success has been in large part due to a leveraging of these connections to create a urban-suburban identity for the borough.


Photo by Andrew Price

Photo by Andrew Price

Hoboken, NJ

Entry submitted by: Philip Jonat

Describe your town's transportation system and what transportation options are available for residents.

Hoboken residents have a plethora of transportation options. The most frequently used commuter options are the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) train to Jersey City/NYC/Newark, and NJ Transit’s bus system which provides rides to NYC and other surrounding communities. The southern end of town contains Hoboken Terminal -  one of the largest multimodal transport hubs in the New York metropolitan area - with many transportation options. Hoboken has the highest percentage of commuters by transit in the U.S. at 56% (another 13% either work from home or commute by walking, bike, or taxi). Descriptions of each system are below:

Hoboken has the highest percentage of commuters by transit in the U.S. at 56%.
  • PATH is available 24/7 at frequencies of 30 minutes or less.Around 30,000 people per day go through the Hoboken Station, which is an end point in the network, though many take the bus, light rail, or heavy rail to Hoboken, then transfer.
  • There are 5 major NJ Transit bus routes in town, and more that travel between Hoboken and neighboring cities. 
  • Another train that is available is the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, which travels north and south through Hudson County to many different communities. Some people who work out in Newark or suburban NJ communities to the north, south, and west of Hoboken take NJ Transit heavy rail to their jobs. 
  • There are two ferry terminals within Hoboken, one in the northeast corner of the city at 14th St, the other at Hoboken Terminal in the southeast corner of the city. These ferry terminals provide access to the two largest business districts in the United States – midtown Manhattan and lower Manhattan. 
  • The street network is a historic grid of mostly narrow one way streets in which the City and Hudson County share a roughly 65-35 split in maintenance. Nearly all streets have submarket rate on-street parking for residents and visitors. There are ~8,000 parking spots on the street and ~14,000 parking permits issued at $15 per year. Only about 30% of working age Hoboken residents commute to work by car, mostly to jobs in suburban areas that lack convenient transit access. 
  • The City has striped bicycle facilities on nearly 40% of Hoboken’s linear street miles, and recently was awarded a Transportation Alternatives grant to expand bicycle facilities to nearly 75% of Hoboken’s linear street miles. In late 2015 the City launched a bike share program called Hudson Bike Share, which now includes approximately 250 bikes at 25 stations across the city. Despite only launching in October, the program already has over 3,000 members in a city of only 54,000.
  • For those who are car-free or car-lite, car sharing, rental cars, taxis, and car sharing services like Uber and Lyft are all available within town. 
Each rowhouse rehabilitation project is an incremental improvement for the whole neighborhood.

Give an example of an incremental project that your town has undertaken.

Hoboken blocks are broken up into many parcels, as per traditional neighborhood development patterns. The classic Hoboken building is a row house made of brownstone, brick, or woodframe construction. Many have survived from before World War II. There is a booming rehabilitation business where older row houses are gutted and brought up to modern standards. Each of these rehabilitation projects are an incremental improvement to the neighborhood on the whole.

From a public perspective, the town has added flexible bollards and painted sidewalk extensions at many intersections. This prevents parking in crosswalks and increases safety for pedestrians. In addition, the town was recently able to acquire a one acre surface parking lot via eminent domain in an area of Hoboken that has very limited open space.. The surface parking lot will be converted into a new park, which will add an important new green space in a community with  some of the lowest green space per capita in the country. Though this purchase was not cheap, it is still an incremental improvement to the 4th Ward. The project incorporates flood water retainage, see the biggest challenge below. The area has boomed in recent years, partially attributed to a megaproject, the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, which added a stop in the area in 2001.

Describe how residents of your town are actively involved in local decision making.

Local residents have a long standing history of writing letters to the editor of The Hudson Reporter, our local paper. This was (somewhat) famously chronicled in a book called Yuppies Invade My House at Dinnertime. The letters went back and forth to describe people’s feelings during a time of genuine gentrification.  Otherwise, local residents have a very standard relationship with the town. There is bureaucracy, but it is not especially onerous. There are opportunities to volunteer on committees for street trees, sustainability, zoning, planning, etc. Three charter schools were formed by concerned parents in the 1990s and 2000s to add diverse classroom experiences. The traditional public schools have stepped up their embrace of parental ideas after these alternatives became popular. All major projects have public outreach. A recent council meeting to vote on a complete streets design that would substantially improve pedestrian, bicycle, and driver safety on the City’s main commercial corridor drew ~200 people to come out.

[After Hurricane Sandy] subway tunnels under the Hudson River between Hoboken and New York City were closed for repairs for more several months, which made the redundancies of transportation services available in Hoboken critical to continuing to get people to and from work.

Tell us a story about how your town adapted to a challenge in some way.

Hurricane Sandy was by far the biggest acute challenge to Hoboken in the past 30 years. Hoboken is a low lying area, fronting the Hudson River. When Hurricane Sandy hit the New Jersey coast in 2012, over 500 million gallons of brackish water flooded the former swamplands (over 70% of the city).  Residents were stranded in their apartments without power for nearly a week, including the multimillion dollar apartment buildings where local celebrities like Eli Manning of the New York Giants live. Basement level apartments were filled to the ceiling with dirty water. Power outages lasted for around a week. The PATH subway tunnels under the Hudson River between Hoboken and New York City were closed for repairs for more several months, which made the redundancies of transportation services available in Hoboken critical to continuing to get people to and from work.
The town has adapted by considering stormwater in every planning decision moving forward. The two large park projects that are moving forward will each contain a cistern capable of handling hundreds of thousands of gallons of stormwater. There is a large project to rebuild our main street, Washington Street (see below). This will incorporate more stormwater management features. The city engaged a Dutch design firm to develop a plan for stormwater mitigation. This mega project is moving forward after winning a Federal HUD design competition for $230M (~$4,600 per capita). I have been pushing to make sure that long term sustainable funding is available for maintenance. Smaller projects like a rain garden at City Hall’s property are in active construction.

Does you town have a central "downtown" or district? If so, please describe this place.

Washington St functions as the main street, it had a streetcar in the 1800s. The downtown area, closest to Hoboken Terminal, is the most popular for food, shopping, and nightlife. It has wide sidewalks and many street cafes. People who travel to Hoboken Terminal, (described above) pass through downtown. People who arrive from New York City or New Jersey use Hoboken Terminal as their base. Over 18,000 passengers ride the bus along Washington Street each day. The city is actively working on a major overhaul of Washington Street to create a true “complete street”.
There are several other thriving commercial areas. First Street downtown, is famous for bars and beautiful trees in the springtime. Fourteenth Street uptown, has many upscale restaurants, but also a new theater and playground area. Most buildings within the City are 3-5 stories, with apartments above the commercial properties. Hoboken has corner stores and restaurants mixed throughout its residential areas that keep most services within easy walking distance of all residents.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

Hoboken is truly a pedestrian friendly town. Most streets are narrow one way streets with parallel parking on both sides. Regardless of stop signs, most drivers treat every intersection like a shared space. This has always made me feel comfortable, from a college student, to a car driver, to a biker, to today. I feel comfortable that my kids could thrive here, and I could grow old here.


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