Parks and Re-Creation
Paterson, New Jersey, like many once-flourishing industrial cities, is struggling economically, as Richard Kreitner observes in “Alexander Hamilton’s Trickle-Down City” [March 13]. But Kreitner’s polemic offers no ideas to improve urban life. Instead, he pillories Paterson’s founder, Alexander Hamilton, as well as the musical and the city.
More important than Paterson’s association with luminaries like Hamilton is its embrace of impoverished and often unwelcome immigrants who built better lives as Americans. Kreitner ignores the resilience of Paterson residents, past and present, who remain committed to revitalizing the city.
What sets Paterson apart from other distressed postindustrial towns is the new Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, which attracted 200,000 visitors last year. Local residents and organizations worked for many years to create this urban national park with spectacular natural wonders; a celebrated Negro League baseball stadium; a history of innovation; and inspiration for artists, filmmakers, writers, and poets. Yet Kreitner pillories the park, too.
A park cannot solve all the problems of a poor city. But Paterson’s new national park reminds us of the power of American reinvention and provides a special place to begin shaping paths toward a better future. This park has already engaged young people in history and science, furthered environmental justice, stimulated cultural tourism, and attracted new patrons to the city’s bustling Latin American and Middle Eastern restaurants. Readers can
see some of the initial progress at
nps.gov/pagr/index.htm and hamilton
Leonard A. Zax
President, Hamilton Partnership for Paterson
Richard Kreitner Replies
Leonard Zax disputes nothing in my account of Alexander Hamilton’s legacy in Paterson and in the United States more generally. His issue is not with my piece’s veracity, but its utility. He is essentially saying that the people of Paterson cannot afford, and therefore do not deserve, an honest accounting of their own history. I am happy to recommend several good restaurants in Paterson to any Nation readers inclined to visit, as they certainly should. Paterson is, as Zax says, a special place. But I think the city’s long-suffering residents have had quite enough of economic-development strategies based on patrons, patronage, and patronizing. It’s time to try something else.