Changing The Meaning Of A Euphemism

by Don Friedman on December 6, 2017


Whatever your personal definition of “meadow” is, the New Jersey meadowlands are not it. The area is a vast swamp, barely above sea level. It’s the combined valley of the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers before they empty into Newark Bay, which itself is a branch of New York Bay by way of Kill Van Kull. It’s absolutely flat, wet ground, that people have built on only with great difficulty because of the problems in constructing foundations there. “Meadow” is, in this case, an eighteenth-century euphemism for “swamp.”

The Regional Plan Association, fresh off the publication of their fourth plan for the New York metropolitan area, had an interesting idea: convert the meadowlands into a climate change national park. There’s an interesting idea there, letting the park change as the climate changes, particularly as water levels rise. It’s unlikely to be realized as such, because the homes and businesses in that flood plain are likely to remain there as long as they are viable.

I think the meadowlands drives people a bit crazy because it’s such a large chunk of mostly undeveloped land in such a dense urban environment. It seems like a waste to let that land be nothing more than a swamp, even if that’s what it is and even if that’s beneficial to the adjacent waterways and built-up areas of land. I’m not sure there’s really that big a difference between developing the meadowlands as a national park and simply preventing further development in an area where flooding has always been a problem and will be more of one in the future.

But I’ve got to say that the New Jersey Climate Change National Park sounds a lot better than “the waste land no one wants because it’s a swamp.”

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