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Jersey City vs. Hoboken: Which neighborhood is for you?

Jersey City is in the midst of a development boom, while Hoboken saw major development in the 1990s.

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The bedroom communities of New Jersey have long been an option for New Yorkers fleeing the city in search of less expensive housing and easy commutes. For many apartment hunters, it makes just as much sense to look in New Jersey as it does the outer boroughs.

But in recent years, New Jersey has become a preferred destination. A couple of factors account for this: rising prices in North Brooklyn and Long Island City, and a surge of amenity-packed development along the Gold Coast. This has attracted a more diverse and younger population to the Garden State—especially to the waterfront.

Hoboken and Jersey City are the two Jersey cities that New Yorkers are most familiar with, thanks to their proximity and easy access across the Hudson River, at least by name. They may not know that Jersey City is the state’s second-largest city, while Hoboken is barely more than one square mile. Curious about other comparisons? Read on.

Brick’s Underground’s neighborhood vs. neighborhood series has focused on the five NYC boroughs. In this edition, we'll dive into the housing, lifestyle, and ineffable “vibe” of Jersey City and Hoboken. And if you're familiar with either, feel free to chime in down in the comments with your own opinions. (Be sure to check out the other neighborhood comparisons in this series: Ditmas Park vs. KensingtonAstoria vs. Long Island CityPark Slope vs. Windsor TerraceTribeca vs. Battery Park City, and Washington Heights vs. Inwood.) 

Jersey City

Boundaries: The first thing to know about Jersey City is that it’s very big. The city spans the Bergen Neck peninsula, bordered on the east by the Hudson River and on the west by the Hackensack River, and comprises about 15 square miles of land. It’s divided into six wards, roughly corresponding to its major neighborhoods: Downtown, Journal Square, the Heights, Bergen-Lafayette, Greenville, and the West Side. Most of Ellis Island is also part of Jersey City.

Real estate: According to Trulia, in February 2019, the median rent for all properties in Jersey City was $1,800 per month, with three bedrooms going for $1,937 and one bedrooms for $1,100. The median sales price for all properties was $463,250, a 7.9 percent increase over last year (rents, meanwhile, are basically flat). You will find a wide range of prices depending on the neighborhood. Downtown, where there has been a huge rental development boom, is the most expensive, with rents averaging $2,600 per month and sales prices $708,000 (and much higher for the luxury high-rise apartments). Bergen-Lafayette is generally the most affordable neighborhood; in January, the median listing price was $379,000.

Though there has been a recent surge of smaller projects, most of the development downtown has been rental high-rises. “The crash of the late 2000s stopped condo construction cold, though in the last three years, it has come back strongly,” says Darrell Simmons of JerseyDigs.com. Three big condo projects underway are 99 Hudson10 Provost, and Park and Shore.

Construction in and around downtown Jersey City has been rampant in part because developers were able to buy large tracts of land in the city’s former industrial hub and build planned communities. A notable example is the Newport area, where the LeFrak Organization has developed six, luxury high-rises along the waterfront since 1987, including Ellipse, a 41-story glass-and-steel building that opened in 2017; its four-bedroom penthouse rents for $10,995 per month.

“We’ve seen the demands and expectations of our customers continue to rise, spring boarding from the type of rental products you find in Manhattan, with luxury amenities and attention to detail,” says Richard Wernick, the managing director of residential leasing at LeFrak. “With increased competition, everyone’s had to step up their game if they want to compete.”

Elsewhere, you’ll find more of a mix of housing inventory. In Journal Square—the former heart of the city—there are large apartment complexes mixed with multi-family low-rises. Journal Squared3 Journal Square, and Altura are three of the most prominent newer rental towers in the neighborhood. The Heights has variety of wood-frame buildings, and certain areas feature beautiful historic properties, namely along Ogden Avenue, Summit Avenue, and Sherman Place, according to Simmons. Two large condo projects (Palisade Square and Gallery Lofts) are finishing up, and many townhomes are being renovated and converted to condo units.

The historic corridor of Bergen Hill has stunning townhomes and single-family houses, while nearby Lafayette is “undergoing a major transformation,” says Simmons. “Large blocks of former industrial properties have been cleared, remediated and now numerous rental projects are underway.” The Baker Building was one of the first large rental buildings in the neighborhood.

West of the downtown waterfront lies historic Van Vorst Park and Hamilton Park, both of which feature brownstones and ornate rowhouses. The westernmost neighborhood downtown is the Village, which was a working-class neighborhood during the industrial days known as Italian Village, thanks to its Italian population. 

Transportation: Commuting options from Jersey City to lower Manhattan, in particular, are good. New Yorkers mostly know Jersey City for its downtown because that’s where three of its four PATH stations are, at Exchange Place, Grove Street and Newport (the city’s fourth stop is at Journal Square). NY Waterway ferries operate between Paulus Hook Ferry Terminal, Liberty Harbor, and Port Liberte, and dock in Manhattan at the Battery Park City Ferry Terminal, Pier 11/Wall St, and the West Midtown Ferry Terminal. The Liberty Water Taxi runs ferries from Liberty Landing Marina and Warren Street to Battery Park City. There are numerous buses from the Journal Square Transportation Center, Exchange Place, and Hoboken Terminal. The Hudson-Bergen light rail, operated by NJ Transit, runs north-south through the city, with connections throughout Hudson County. Jersey City also has CitiBike docks, if you prefer to get around on your own power.

Living: About 270,000 people live here, and it’s one of the most diverse cities in the U.S. “It’s vast, both in terms of population and geographically,” says Henry Waller, vice president of Toll Brothers City Living. “Every time I drive though, I’m amazed at how big it is.”

Like NYC, Jersey City has historically been a major destination for immigrants to the U.S. The number of non-Hispanic whites, Asians, African Americans, and Latino residents are roughly equivalent, creating a vibrant mix of cultures (that you’ll experience mostly beyond downtown). For example: Marion, to the west of Journal Square, is home to Jersey City’s Little India, which has the highest concentration of Asian Indians in the Western Hemisphere, and Five Corners is a vibrant Filipino enclave in the northeastern portion of Journal Square. A stretch spanning the northern part of Hudson County used to be referred to as Havana on the Hudson, where the Cuban population was once second only to Miami, though many residents have since moved to the suburbs.

“Jersey City attracts artists and different cultures, which really creates an amazing and unique community,” says Carrie Grosso, co-owner of Koro Koro Cafe. "It’s so easy to get into NYC. It used to be a best-kept secret!”

Lately, however, Jersey City has been a major draw for people coming from much nearer: Manhattan and Brooklyn. “Downtown is seeing an influx of ex-New Yorkers, young families, and I’ve noticed lots of college students (NYU, Fordham, Columbia, etc.),” says Simmons. “Also, there’s a large trend of empty nesters downsizing from the suburbs for a more vibrant and walkable urban lifestyle.”

There’s variety among income levels as well. Jersey City’s median household income is $52,504, about half that of the much smaller Hoboken.

Art, culture, and music play a significant role in the fabric of the community. Downtown, with its deep-pocketed professionals, dual-income families, and creative types with discretionary income, has given rise to a busy arts scene, with galleries like Mana Contemporary, and music venues like the newly restored White Eagle Hall.

“There was a time when you had to be Jersey-centric to know about Jersey City, but if you were New York-centric, you probably weren’t coming across the river,” says Michael Barry, president of Ironstate Development Company. “That’s all changed in the past few years. Today, if you’re looking for an apartment in the New York-metropolitan area, you’re looking at Manhattan, you’re looking at Long Island City and Astoria, you’re looking at Williamsburg, and you’re looking at Jersey City.”

There’s green space to be found, too. Jersey City is on the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway, and has multiple large parks along its waterfronts, most notably Liberty State Park on the Hudson and Lincoln State Park on the Hackensack.

Eating and shopping: Jersey City has an eclectic dining and shopping scene, with new restaurants and outlets opening all the time. Downtown has an increasingly Brooklyn look: Word Bookstore, Barcade, and Talde all have locations there, mixed among local favorites like the Archer, a rustic cocktail bar; Razza, an intimate pizzeria in the old Italian Village; and Cellar 335, a global Tiki-inspired spot. For fancier occasions, try 15 Fox Place, a reservation-only Italian eatery in a private house with a multi-course prix fixe menu.

In the Heights, the retail and restaurant scene is still catching up, but a few notable places have opened in the last couple of years: Corto (a no-frills Italian joint), Low Fidelity (a stylish cocktail bar with Detroit-style pizza), Dulce de Leche (an Argentinian bakery/cafe), and The Cliff (a neighborhood cafe with killer coffee). In the neighborhoods with large ethnic communities, you’ll find an incredible array of cuisines; more than we can possible get into here.

Vibe: Jersey City has a big-city feel, with lots of nightlife, events, and restaurant options. Downtown is bustling and increasingly family-friendly. The historic areas, like Paulus Hook and the Village, have more mom-and-pop shops and boutique buildings. The density of commercial development gives Journal Square a vibrant urban beat. The Heights has more of an artsy vibe, and the farther-flung neighborhoods have a friendly, family-oriented residential feel.

Hoboken

Boundaries: Hoboken is a 1.25-square-mile wedge bordered to the east by the Hudson River; to the south and west by the Jersey City neighborhoods of downtown and the Heights; and to the north by Weehawken. It’s directly across from the West Village and Chelsea in Manhattan.

Real estate: Because it is more compact and has already had its big development boom in the 1990s, apartment prices in Hoboken tend to be a bit higher than in Jersey City (though some agents say Jersey City has lately surpassed Hoboken in price per square foot). According to Trulia, the median sales price in February 2019 was $660,000, down 15 percent from the same period last year. The median rent in the fourth quarter of last year was $2,513, with one bedrooms at $2,200 and three bedrooms a little over $3,800.

“The buildings in Jersey City are much larger than in Hoboken,” says Waller. “Whereas Jersey City is a much broader canvas, Hoboken is more hemmed in by the older brownstones that are closer to the water. But the arc of development in very much the same, in that they were both shipping communities that have been redeveloped.”

Housing in Hoboken is primarily a mix of historic townhomes, working class two- to three-family houses, and larger apartment buildings, says Simmons of Jersey Digs. “There’s significantly less development happening now than in Jersey City, but the trends in Hoboken seem to be much more stable.” There are very few high-rises as most of the city is subject to height restrictions for development.

There are a few larger projects, including 700 Jackson, from Bijou Properties, and the Hudson Tea development, from Toll Brothers City Living. But unlike downtown Jersey City, most of the new construction in Hoboken consists of condos, says Joelle Chilazi, a licensed realtor with Keller Williams City Life Realty. Downtown has more walk-up apartments and multi-family housing. Uptown Hoboken, meanwhile, has seen some development in recent years, a mix of rental and condo buildings with an industrial style that reflects the history of the neighborhood, says Simmons. You can see this at 1400 Hudson and 1425 Hudson at Hudson Tea, two luxury condos on the waterfront, once home to the Lipton Tea Company.

“In Hoboken, there is a strong movement to larger footprint condos,” Simmons says. “A lot of three to five bedrooms units have come to market recently, likely catering to the strong family demographic in the city.”

Transportation: The PATH train operates from Hoboken Terminal to 33rd Street and the World Trade Center (and connects to Journal Square, in Jersey City, and Newark Penn Station). It’s typically less crowded than the PATH in Jersey City. The NY Waterway ferry crosses from Hoboken Terminal and 14th Street to Battery Park City Ferry Terminal, Pier 11/Wall St, and the West Midtown Ferry Terminal. The 126 bus runs from Hoboken Terminal to Port Authority. (Be warned: parking in Hoboken is terrible.)

Living: Once dominated by a 20-something beer-and-shot-drinking crowd, Hoboken’s culture has matured quite a bit, thanks to more families staying long-term, says Jacqueline Urgo, president of The Marketing Directors, which represents new developments along the Gold Coast. 

Hoboken’s compactness fosters a small-town familiarity—you’re likely to run into people you know on the street, because you don’t really need a car to get around. It’s very pedestrian friendly, with excellent mass transit and bike lanes.

“It’s a small, tight-knit, almost urban-suburban community, in a good way,” says broker Lana Walsh Falcicchio, the owner of Boutique Realty. “No matter where you live, you can pretty much walk to do any type of errand, and you’re always within walking distance to a park.” 

Some of the most popular parks are Frank Sinatra Park, Elysian Park, and Columbus Square Park. The Hudson River Waterfront Walkway has boardwalks and green paths that let residents walk from Hoboken all the way to Port Liberte in Jersey City.

Speaking of Sinatra, Hoboken’s native son: Much of crooner’s old neighborhood is gone and Hoboken looks very different from its mid-century heyday. A vibrant port city for much of the 20th century, Hoboken fell on hard times in the 1960s as the shipping industry dried up. By the ’80s, a combination of cheap prices, proximity to a nearly bankrupt NYC, and abundant residential and industrial space fueled a speculation spree. Young people flocked to the neighborhood, home to music venues like the famed Maxwell’s, which New Yorker magazine once called “The Best Club in New York—Even Though It's in New Jersey."

Chilazi first moved to Hoboken in the early 1990s, when it was “an enclave for artists and musicians—kind of up and coming at the time.” Similar to the transformation of Williamsburg and the East Village, Hoboken has become more family-friendly over the years. The influx of young singles stayed, had families, and other young couples began to consider Hoboken a viable alternative to Manhattan—for starting or raising a family. Maxwell’s closed in 2013; the person who used to book shows there now does the same job for the White Eagle Hall in Jersey City.

“The vibe of Hoboken has definitely changed since the early 2000s, as more families have come in and prices have gone up,” says Jennifer Tripucka, founder of HobokenGirl.com, a local blog. “I think more people are staying here and starting families, or moving here with their families from other areas—specifically Brooklyn and NYC.” Tripucka herself is a representative example: she and her husband moved to Hoboken in their early 20s; now in their 30s, they have bought a condo and “are staying for the duration” with their two dogs.

For Tripucka and her family, Hoboken’s intimacy is the prime selling point. “Walking in a five-block radius from your place in Hoboken, you'll be able to drop off your dry cleaning, get a manicure, eat lunch, bump into neighbors, watch dogs (that may or may not be your own), play at the dog park, ogle historic brownstones as you walk down the quaint streets, and seal it off with an evening cocktail or dinner at a local spot owned by a local family for generations.”

Hoboken has a population of about 55,000, and it’s not particularly diverse: More than 80 percent of the population is white, according to the 2010 census. It’s also wealthy and well educated: The median household income is $104,265, and 75 percent of its residents have been to college. More than half of the employed residents work in New York City.

Eating and shopping: Hoboken doesn’t have as many new restaurants and boutiques as Jersey City, and has a reputation for having more chains and franchises. But it has the most restaurants and bars per capita in the U.S., and there are plenty of gems to be found. Anthony David’s is a popular brunch spot. Healthy lunches and bowls are to be found at Acai Ya Later and Shaka Bowl. Cucharamama is a James Beard Award-nominated Latin American hotspot, and Augustino’s is a famed (and very cozy) Italian spot. The city’s Italian legacy is strongly felt in old-school delis like Fiore's, Vito’s and M & P Biancamano.

Retail is concentrated mainly on Washington Street, where you’ll find boutiques like Alba, Oran, Washington General Store, and the Roost (a hybrid “espresso bar and lifestyle shop”).
Vibe: Uptown Hoboken is quieter, with lots of families and more established residents. Downtown you’ll find more singles, a greater hum of activity and a college-town vibe, especially around the PATH station.