The Great Falls of Paterson, New Jersey, have bowled over admirers since at least the 17th century, but perhaps none have captured their power as presciently as the Jersey-born poet William Carlos Williams. Meditating on that mystical place where the Passaic River jackknifes over basalt cliffs and crashes into a 77-foot chasm, Williams wrote in his long poem Paterson: “The past above, the future below / and the present pouring down.”
Today, the Great Falls and the eight-square-mile mill city that rose up around them offer a concentrated glimpse of postindustrial America’s plight and potential. Like many places across the nation’s rust belt, Paterson is a zone where the remnants of a once-proud past—smokestacks, flumes, textile mills, boiler houses, riverbanks, tailraces, dye works—now segue to a more communitarian future through a present-day landscape of transition and tatters. A city of surpassing cultural assets, and yet often derided by its own residents as “the last-place team,” Paterson poses an instructive conundrum for designers, planners, and urban dwellers searching for a 21st-century meaning of place.
This first article in a series of three on Doggerel explores Paterson’s paramount challenge: to connect a prized but remote industrial heritage to the fast-flowing contemporary world. Drawing on a legacy of daring innovation—embodied by the surging Great Falls and the entrepreneurs they attracted—we find in Paterson a testing ground where new forms of urban vitality, ecological renewal, and social resilience can be pioneered for the postindustrial future.
June 15, 2015
Doggerel: The Online Magazine of Arup in the Americas