Jesse Fried • Jun 14, 2017
For a post-industrial city in an are dominated by oil refineries, shipping cranes and Staten Island, Elizabeth looks pretty good. Today, it has some gritty urban neighborhoods, but nothing as decrepit as Newark or Jersey City, from what I understand. It also has some really nice elegant suburban areas within the city limits, and some stable modest lower middle class areas too.The downtown is pleasant. It reflects the city’s enormous trend of Columbian immigration, with some fun Columbian restaurants and bars. Also there are some cheap and practical department stores which I remember as having a somewhat festive vibe. The Union County courthouse dominates the skyline.Elizabeth has a classic urban NJ history of Southern and Eastern European immigration with a shift to Latin American in recent decades. A substantial Portuguese community persists there. The Columbian community is definitely not the only immigrant population there today, but it is big and seems to be the most visible.Kean University is located on the border between Elizabeth and suburban Union. It has a pretty nice campus. I’m not sure how “good” of a college it is, in comparison to other local options such as Montclair State or NJIT, but I went to a summer music program there once which was great.Located in NJ’s “Urban Enterprise Zone” of reduced sales tax, Elizabeth’s industrial areas near the Turnpike support some intense commercial development that attracts people from all over. Ikea is there. Its cafe area overlooks planes taking off and landing at adjacent Newark Airport (partly located in Elizabeth), offering a source of entertainment for shopping-weary kids. A recent trip to this Ikea impressed me with the diversity of its clientele. The enormous Jersey Gardens mall is also located there. Its IMAX movie theater attracts many NJ residents who would otherwise settle for malls nearer by.