In defense of northern New Jersey

John V. writes to me:

In your podcast with Ezra Klein, you said your number 1 rule for growing up in New Jersey is “Leave”. I’d encourage you to modify the rule to “Leave…but then Return!”

I grew up in Morris County, lived in the San Francisco area for 10 years after college, and moved back to NJ 3 years ago. I now live just a few towns over from where you grew up in Bergen County.

A few observations from my time back here:

1. More Affordable Than You Think

Given the access to labor markets and the available cultural amenities, Northern New Jersey is surprisingly affordable. It’s still possible to find a reasonable home in a reasonable location for ~$200k, which is close to the national median.

I lived in Palo Alto for most of my time in California. The cheapest 4-bedroom house in Palo Alto right now is $2.6M (

I live in what is perhaps the most “Palo Alto-like” of Bergen County towns, and my 4-bedroom house cost over 3x less and is almost 2x larger than the Palo Alto house above. I also can walk to the train, a Whole Foods, library, YMCA, town pool, third-wave coffee shop, etc. Not too shabby for the price!

Here’s a nice 4-bedroom house on a 1/3 of an acre for under $500k with a Walk Score of 83, train access to NYC, and good schools:

Yes, property and income taxes are high, but isn’t that really just a form of consumption?

2. Quick Access to World-Class Everything

Some travel time anecdotes from my house:
– 35 minutes to Lincoln Center or Central Park on a Saturday
– 20 minutes to this water fall:
– Just over an hour to this beach:

The food is good too!
– Korean:
– Hot Dogs:
– Turkish Bread:
– Sliders:
– Colombian:

3. Extremely Diverse Middle-Class

Want to see what a successful American future could look like? Go here on a Wednesday or Saturday afternoon:

Things you’ll see and hear: Five or six different languages being spoken. Russian grandmothers going for a walk. Packs of teenage girls wearing Hijabs. Orthodox Jewish moms pushing strollers. And many more groups, all reflecting the diversity and success of the surrounding towns:,_New_Jersey#Community_diversity,_New_Jersey#2010_Census

Northern New Jersey has undergone a lot of ethnic change and international immigration over the last 30 years. There are problems of course, including plenty of segregation. But it’s still working pretty well. The rest of the country could learn a thing or two.


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