Josef Reyes, the publisher/editor of Conveyer, was kind enough to send me the latest copy of the zine that, in Reyes' words, "[attempts to articulate] Jersey City's 'sense of place' by documenting snatches of daily life in the city. The idea is that by examining how people experience the city on an everyday basis, we get a vivid picture of what the city really feels like."
Overall, Conveyer is a very thoughtful read, but my favorite part came right at the beginning; "A Subjective Atlas of Jersey City" is made up of four maps, hand drawn by individual JC residents, accompanied by photos of the places marked and explained on the maps. It's likely that this has been done somewhere before, but that hardly lessens the impact of the article. This simple mapping out of different peoples' experiences of the city, as disparate as they are, helps to form an idea of what it might be like to live in Jersey City.
Reading about urban design projects or shiny new buildings or traffic problems in cities scattered across the globe is easy enough to do; that is to say, there's no shortage. Nor do we lack stories on what it's like to visit these disparate places; if anything, there are too many stories about what it's like to be a rich tourist in a foreign city. But the stories that seem hard to come by are the ones that tell us what life is like, day to day, in a given place. What, we are left to wonder, are the places with these fabulous buildings, avenues, and metro stations really like for the people why actually use them?
In its mission to shed some light on this question for Jersey City, Conveyer succeeds most readily with the "Subjective Atlas." It's a really lovely collection, and it manages to convey (oops, a pun!) a great deal of meaning in a relatively short space. The places that the reader learns about through the maps become almost personal; the vicarious experience of the reading scratches the same itch as reality TV...yet it does so in a much more satisfying way. The maps are scripted, in their own way, but this is done by the person whose life we are peeking into, not for them.
Jeff Edwards' map depicts the neighborhood where he and his s.o. Amy were living in September of 2001. Edwards makes his own experience of the 9-11 attacks real by using the context of his former community to illustrate how he grappled with the effects of what happened that day. We learn about the place by learning about the people who live[d] there. The last marker on the map, at the bottom of the page, is an arrow pointing away from the neighborhood. "On the first anniversary of 9-11, [we] were working on a condo we had just bought. Our new neighborhood is this way. Sometimes we miss the old one." And I couldn't help but think, as I turned the page, that I kind of would, too.
Conveyer (Image credit)