Located in a designated New Jersey Smart Growth Area on the west side of Jersey City, New Jersey, Gloria Robinson Court Homes (GRCH), the result of a comprehensive HOPE VI revitalization process, represents the efforts of two different development teams over twelve years and four phases aimed at replacing 664 units, many of them vacant, of a long-outdated, high-density, seven-tower public housing project originally built in 1954.
The newly completed community reconnects a long-neglected neighborhood with its city, offering 274 new mixed-income, mixed-finance rental units, an 11-classroom Jersey City Head Start Early Childhood Education Program, management offices, and a variety of on-site social services and amenities, including management offices, conference rooms, a 12-workstation Neighborhood Networks Center, and a community facility providing residents with a public gathering space, a full kitchen, and on-site laundry services. All four phases of the GRCH community are ENERGY STAR-certified, and the third phase has been certified LEED® Silver by the United States Green Building Council.
The ambitious goal of the JCHA, stakeholders and the development and design team was to transform this site into a model mixed-income, mixed-use community that would fit in with a changing City. Through careful analysis and innovative design and siting solutions, the approach envisioned and developed throughout all four phases of the plan responded to critical housing-demand requirements established by JCHA at the very beginning of the master planning process in order to achieve an appropriate and acceptable urban density utilizing both low- and mid-rise buildings designed to perfectly blend with traditional Jersey City architectural design standards and traditions. If the maximization of affordable housing opportunities was to be achieved, density would have to play a starring role in the design by utilizing a combination of both low- and mid-rise residential structures. Additionally, the final design and its overall density would also need to be balanced with the desire of residents for privacy, security and safety.
The design of GRCH ultimately addressed these concerns through the intelligent use of a variety of medium-density housing solutions which took full advantage of opportunities to establish a variety of design features aimed precisely at quality of life issues, safety and security. Individual entrances, such as private porches and porticoes are a design hallmark of the new GRCH community, reducing the overall space devoted to interior common areas—and simultaneously reducing security concerns and establishing a comfortable and aesthetically successful neighborhood streetscape with the local neighborhood residents and urban pedestrian in mind. Additional considerations, such as traffic calming devices—curb bulbs and narrower roadway widths, along with secure and safe bike racks, pedestrian pathways and direct access to Lincoln Park West, were also integrated into the program at GRCH. To ensure a consistent and direct connection with the rest of Jersey City, a new bus stop was installed directly across from the finished GRCH at Duncan Avenue, at the southeast corner of the site.
Photography © Don Pearse Photographers Inc.
Time will tell what the true lessons that can be drawn will be from twelve years of planning and redevelopment at GRCH. The ultimate test will be to see how successful the new community integrates with the rest of Jersey City as the expected growth from downtown makes its way westward. But for now, what is obvious to anyone involved in the process, is that a new day has dawned on this once-forgotten neighborhood on the far west side of Jersey City, New Jersey.
Through a concerted effort of a variety of committed stakeholders, an entire population of long-time Jersey City residents, historically neglected and ignored, in addition to those first-generation immigrants and their families establishing their initial toehold in a brand new country, GRCH has provided the foundation for a sense of place, of home, and the opportunity for residents to gain critical purchase on a future that is suddenly full of promise—a future where hope once again plays a major role in how this community looks toward tomorrow.