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.
As for what that might be, I hope disinterested readers will find that Zax is not entirely right that my article “offers no ideas to improve urban life.” True, I had thought a critique of the national mythology delivered as a theater review by way of historical investigation/personal meditation/reportage was already ambitious enough. But my piece did suggest one place to start, and I’ll reiterate it, more explicitly, here: We must strive to tell true stories about our past. Zax says the national park at the Great Falls “reminds us of the power of American reinvention.” I could not have put it better myself.
I would also like to personally acknowledge a few factual errors that unfortunately made it into the piece. Historically, the Great Falls has indeed been a “popular location for murder and suicide,” as I wrote, but there seems to have been only one
person—an infant—involuntarily tossed from the footbridge in recent memory. Further, at last summer’s picnic reenactment, Zax said, according to my notes, “as Alexander Hamilton knew, the past is what you make it.” The Hamilton Partnership claims he said “the future is what you make it.” And, finally, there were no enslaved persons represented at the reenactment, but members of George Washington’s Life Guard. I regret the errors.
new york city
Russ Feingold’s piece “Our Legitimacy Crisis” and Daniel May’s on “How to Revive the Peace Movement” in the April 3 issue offer a window into what is already happening in parts of America off the beaten path. On March 15, the town of New London, New Hampshire, passed a resolution calling for the end of the US nuclear-weapons modernization program; the removal of our guided missiles from hair-trigger alert; the resumption of serious negotiations to eliminate these arms, as required by Article 6 of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; and the application of the resources saved to meeting human needs and restoring our decaying public works. That resolution is being forwarded to New London’s state legislators, its congressional delegation, and New Hampshire’s governor. Meanwhile, Global Zero has drafted a similar resolution that it aims to promote nationwide. People across generations are combining in this effort!
new london, n.h.
Senator Feingold points out what a good coach or athlete might have told us: We need to get back to the fundamentals. We must play defense against the extreme Trump/Republican agenda, but we must also push measures to strengthen democracy in the states that allow citizens to put issues on the ballot by petition and through the courts. Feingold talks about the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact as a means of ensuring that we don’t repeat 2000 and 2016. He also mentions the importance of fighting rampant gerrymandering.
However, Feingold doesn’t mention other important reforms that could bring about a more democratic system, such as automatic voter registration, which has been enacted in California, Connecticut, Oregon, and Vermont, or elections by mail, as happen in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington State. These measures not only boost voter turnout but also save tax dollars that can be better spent on other vital public needs. Passage of these in blue states like Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island would build momentum for more reform in 2018. We also need to remember that even traditionally blue states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin can be turned by voter suppression!
Former member, Illinois House of Representatives
Love From Texas
I have been tardy with kudos for the “Obama Years” special issue [Jan. 2/9], so when the special issue on “Media in the Trump Era” [March 20] was equally superior, I had to write. Two wonderful reads. It is very comforting to know there are people “out there” who think like me.
In “Paterson: Alexander Hamilton’s Trickle-Down City” [March 13], an image of a Hamilton Partnership poster appeared without credit on page 21. We regret the oversight.