The Meadowlands

Through cultural osmosis it’s become something we can perhaps all identify with – the ‘badlands’ of New Jersey. The poisonous brown swamp that flashes past in the opening credits of The Sopranos, reeds and factories, chimneys and motels. Fly-tipping and gangster hits. The footnote of the city, the phosphorescent-green belt, where the toxins of the metropolis bleed from its porous edge. We have our own badlands too, of course, in our Thames Estuary, and also in the gypsy-raddled wastes that stretch out west past Uxbridge. If you want to find out more about the bigger, scarier American version, there are two great books about the New Jersey Meadowlands that I heartily recommend.

For an excellent introduction to the area, I suggest the psychogeographical travel book ‘The Meadowlands‘ by Robert Sullivan (available for a laughable 1p here!) in which the author roots around in the reedbeds and uncovers all sorts of urban legends and buried weirdness as he wanders the 32-square-mile wilderness, part natural, part industrial, that lies only five miles from the Empire State Building. He says he started digging because:

Most of the Meadowlands consists of things that are buried – garbage, chemicals, bodies, demolition rubble from neighborhoods in New York, New Jersey and London, and even part of a mountain that used to stand proudly in northern New Jersey – the Meadowlands can be thought of as a kind of iceberg, in that most of it can’t be seen.

If you can’t be bothered to read words, these Dantean wastes are also the subject of an excellent coffee table  photobook –  Meadowlands by Joshua Lutz, in which the artist manages to capture perfectly that grimy urban purgatory and its denizens in all their sinister glory.


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About Author Profile: Worm

In between dealing with all things technological in the Dabbler engine room, Worm writes the weekly Wikiworm column every Saturday and our monthly Book Club newsletters.

6 thoughts on “The Meadowlands

  1. Brit
    January 7, 2011 at 13:58

    Can’t let this pass without a shout out to da BossYou wake up in the night with a fear so real, Spend your life waiting for a moment that just don’t come. Well, don’t waste your time waiting!

    Now that’s rock n roll….

    Toby Ash
    January 7, 2011 at 16:02

    Great choice Worm. Robert Sullivan is a terrific writer. I can thoroughly recommend his ‘Rats – A year with New York’s most unwanted inhabitants’. His interviews, anecdotes and long nights watching the rat watchers (including a real pied piper) is very entertaining. His description of ‘super rats’ is the stuff of nightmares. I have now ordered Meadowlands which looks as if it will be an equally good read.

  3. Gaw
    January 7, 2011 at 18:01

    I’ll be having dinner in suburban NJ at the end of this month – first time there, apart from passing through. I’m assured there are nicer bits than those pictured! It really is a bit like Essex, I suppose…

    January 8, 2011 at 12:56

    Last year we spent Easter visiting Manhatten, but stayed about forty minutes away in NJ, much of which is gorgeous. We had to drive through The Meadowlands to get to the Big Apple, and it must have been the most depressing drive of our lives, leading my wife to quip: “In the States, you have to be prepared to drive through a lot of ugly to find the beautiful.”

  5. Worm
    January 8, 2011 at 16:32

    thanks for the heads up on Sullivan’s Rats book Toby, I have purchased a 1p copy on your recommendation!

    Brit – yes the Boss is the perfect soundtrack for driving out into the meadowlands and shooting somebody in the back of the head to! (Perhaps we could launch a compilation cd on that theme…)

    Gaw, susan and peter – weird I know, but it looks so horribly bleak to me that I actually like it! Not sure why I’m attracted to it so much, perhaps it stems from growing up near bodmin moor…

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