Paul Somerville honored in mayoral proclamation for outstanding service and dedication to Hoboken

Paul J. Somerville, a Hoboken resident born in St. Mary’s hospital, (now HUMC) was honored for his outstanding service and dedication to the City of Hoboken by Mayor Zimmer at the City Council meeting last night. He kindly submitted these remarks appearing here.

Although not without its
challenges and triumphs, battles lost and won, it has been my sincere honor and
pleasure to have served as a Historic Preservation Commissioner in Hoboken for
fourteen years.  In that time, part of
which was spent as the Chairman, many of the initiatives I was involved with
have begun to bear fruit, including adherence to the U.S. Secretary of the
Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties; the expansion of
the historic districts and; the revamping of the Historic Preservation
Ordinance component of the City of Hoboken’s Zoning Code.  The Preservation Commission is now populated
with professionals in the fields of architecture, engineering, construction,
archiving, archaeology and historic preservation, ensuring that the application
process is smooth and objective.  This
makeup of the Commission also enables Hoboken to attain Certified Local
Government Status and in so doing, access heretofore unavailable state funding
for Hoboken for a variety of programs.
“It has been said that, at its best, preservation
engages the past in a conversation with the present over a mutual concern for
the future.”   
–  William Murtagh, first keeper of the National Register
of Historic Places
While I’m stepping away from my
seat on the Hoboken Historic Preservation Commission, I am committed to
preservation efforts in our City, region and nation and will always remain
involved in those endeavors that help define who we are and who we wish to
become.  By understanding our past, our
present is greatly enriched and through preservation, our future has a context
that we can shape in the most life-affirming ways.  That is the goal of preservation; not merely
to enhance the dining and shopping experiences of a privileged few through a
murky lens of a misleading nostalgia, but to work to ensure that we, as
stewards of our cultural resources, protect them for the future, and through
this work, foster the crucial understanding that these efforts are relevant and
that the “eyewitness objects”, structures and places of our shared history
Many who have moved to Hoboken as
adults, and those who have been here their whole lives, speak about Hoboken’s
scale, its walk-ability, safety and charm. 
They will describe the friendly feel, the pleasant interactions with
independent shopkeepers and impromptu meetings with neighbors.  The settings for these encounters are the
streets, stoops, parks, farmers’ markets and other gathering places in our
tiny, diverse, urban village.   Whether
they realize it or not, they are describing the positive outcomes of historic
preservation.  The continuation of these
elements that serve to attract and retain many of our residents and businesses
cannot be taken for granted and deserve our utmost vigilance and the
implementation of excellent and thoughtful zoning ordinances.
Much of the work and focus of the
Hoboken Historic Preservation Commission is transactionally driven through the
application process and largely concerns the built environment of the more
conventionally beautiful structures. However, Hoboken’s rich industrial past,
its unique geological formations, its view sheds and view corridors are also
historic and worthy of protection.  A pro-active
emphasis for these elements can and should be at the core of preservation
initiatives as much has already been lost and what remains has never been more
threatened.  When and if new structures
are to be built, archaeology, which has been largely ignored in the
preservation process, must play an expanding role.
Although it’s difficult to step
away from this work in the city I love, where my father’s maternal ancestors
settled five generations ago, I am confident that my fellow commissioners will
continue to improve the functioning of the historic preservation commission and
its important role in shaping our City’s future by preserving its past.

Paul J. Somerville
Talking Ed Note: The mayor also issued a proclamation honoring Mark Mouton as the current New Jersey State Teacher of the Year.

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