A Jersey State Of Mind

by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

What comes to mind when you think “New Jersey”?

If you live here, you probably think of the Jersey shore, Jersey tomatoes, Jersey blueberries, the Meadowlands, the Pine Barrens, Cape May, High Point or maybe the Delaware Water Gap or even the light bulb!


But the national perception is a bit different. A nationwide survey conducted by the Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind Poll yielded a mixed bag of complimentary and not-so-flattering responses.

The number one response from 711 randomly-selected adults was … New York. “New Jersey forever struggles in the shadow of New York for its identity,” said Peter Woolley, director of the poll.

Actually, we’re not struggling. Yes, we’re New York’s next door neighbor, and most sports teams that play in New Jersey call themselves New Yorkers, but Garden State residents have a strong sense of our own identity. We love New York, but we also love living in New Jersey!

The second-ranked response comes as no surprise: “Shore, ocean, beach, boardwalk and boating.” Who wouldn’t recognize New Jersey for that? From Sandy Hook to Cape May – and back up along the Delaware Bayshore – New Jersey’s variety of beaches and shorelines is amazing!

The number three response was gratifying indeed: “Garden State, farming and open space”. Let’s hear it for New Jersey, a national leader in open space and farmland preservation! Our Green Acres program – celebrating its 50th anniversary this year – and farmland preservation program are succeeding in keeping us in the “Garden.”

The fourth most frequent response was not so thrilling: “Corruption, crime, mafia, Sopranos.” New Jersey’s far from perfect, but I think folks in other parts of the country may have watched too much TV. The good news is that the mafia image is fading – in last year’s poll, the same response ranked number two.

The number five perception is reminiscent of countless Jersey jokes: “Pollution, bad smell and industry.” There’s no denying there’s a pungent mix of aromas along a certain stretch of New Jersey Turnpike. But there are far more places in New Jersey that smell like mountain streams, salt air or freshly turned soil than belching industrial smokestacks.

Number six was: “Overpopulated, dense, too many people.” Nobody can argue with the fact that New Jersey is the most densely-populated state in the nation. We have 8.8 million people sharing 8,722 square miles – which makes land preservation and sound environmental protections more important here than anywhere else! But did you know that nearly one-third of New Jersey’s total land area is made up of preserved open space, farmland and parks? One-third is developed and the last third will be developed if we don’t keep our preservation programs going!

The seventh most frequent response was: “Atlantic City, gambling and casinos.” Trenton might be our capital and the center of state politics, but it doesn’t make an impression on most out-of-staters.

Our governor, Chris Christie, is another matter. He ranked eighth in the poll – the first person with enough mentions to climb that high. Christie’s star is certainly rising in the national political consciousness, since he didn’t show in last year’s poll.

“Who’s the Boss now?” asked Woolley. “I was surprised because no person has ever had enough mentions to make the list – not Sinatra, not Springsteen, not Tony Soprano and not even Snooki.”

So there you have it. This state we’re in evokes strong images in people’s minds across the nation – some good, some bad. But for New Jerseyans, it’s all good!

If you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org .

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