At 29 years old, Brittani Bunney can feel the pulse of Jersey City in ways other people may not. Employed to do community outreach for Silverman, a prominent local developer, she has seen various elements of the community embrace development, education, arts, and other aspects of city life.
Although she lived for five years in Hoboken before moving to Jersey City, she considers Jersey City her home, and sees it as one of the most desirable places in the U.S. to live.
In some ways, her life epitomizes the great change in America as kids return to the city from the suburbs, reinventing the urban experience.
While not exactly naïve the way the lead character in The Mary Tyler Moore Show once was, Bunney similarly came to the big city from afar. She arrived in New Jersey in 2005 from her home in Spearfish, S.D. The town was named after Native Americans who used to spear fish in a local pond there.
“This is a once in life time experience.” – Brittani Bunney
She had no idea what she intended to do with her life when she made her way east.
“I hoped it would work out. I’m still here, so I guess it has,” she said.
She initially moved to Hoboken, where she lived for about five years, mostly because she had roommates.
She started working for LeFrak at Newport Mall, in the management office. One day, she heard of a job in a real estate office for an officer manager. So she applied. She said she had no qualifications, but they hired her anyway. They helped her get her real estate license.
She saved her commissions so that she could go back to school, and attended Hudson County Community College. Although she eventually changed real estate agencies, she completed her courses at HCCC.
She moved to Jersey City for a while, then was offered a nanny job for a family that lived in Glen Ridge. This allowed her to work and finish getting her degree Montclair State University.
When she graduated from there, she decided it was time to get “a real job.”
“So I thought, ‘who is going to hire me?’ Maybe Paul Silverman,” she said.
She had met the local developer about three years earlier at the Hamilton Inn during an opening.
“So I sent him my resume, told him that I had just graduated from college, I was a little old to graduate college, but I’m in the market for a job. He hired me.”
Pulse of the city
Now that she has lived in Hoboken and Jersey City, Bunney says Jersey City has more appeal to her, a more diverse city with more cultural opportunities.
She said the big difference between Hoboken and Jersey City is age. Hoboken draws a younger crowd – especially in its night life, 20 to 25 – whereas Jersey City has a better age mix.
“Jersey City is much more culturally diverse,” she said. “Many of the taverns here are deeply involved in the arts. Hoboken doesn’t seem to have that.”
While Hoboken and Jersey City both enjoy easy access to Manhattan, Bunney said there is plenty to enjoy on this side of the river.
While downtown and the waterfront were the first parts of the city to show signs of this cultural blooming, Bunney noted, it has spread throughout the city. Art House Propductions, JC Fridays, and events associated with both have brought the arts into Jersey City Heights, the West Side, Journal Square, and even Greenville.
Last year, Bunney helped organize the Best Side Festival that took place in October, celebrating on West Side Avenue. She is also involved in P.S. 22.
“There are festivals taking place nearly every weekend in the spring and summer,” she said. “There are things to do that interest all, and they are not exclusive to any age, gender or culture.”
JC Project, a local small business market on Grove Street, drew thousands of people last December, some of them familiar faces from the downtown crowd, many from other parts of the city.
“People don’t have to live downtown or even in Jersey City to be part of it,” she said. “There are so many cool things going on, new development, cultural diversity, a lot of things to be a part of.”
Taught her about how to give back
As manager of leasing and community relations for Silverman, Bunney’s job is a big asset when it comes to her personal involvement with the city.
“Paul and Eric Silverman have been developing in Jersey City for 34 years. They build exclusively in Jersey City,” she said. “They taught me about giving back to the city and how to get involved.”
She served as principal for a day at PS 22, as part of a Silverman company program that she helps run. She teaches media skills as a volunteer for New City Kids, and has established a reading program called Jersey City Reads.
Her job allows her to attend art openings at Silverman’s studios at Majestic and Hamilton Square. She is also involved with the Hamilton Park Festival in the fall, picking up on what has become an annual event. Other programs she is involved in include the Dress for Success program in Jersey City and she is part of the Center for Business and Industry at HCCC.
She says she loves Jersey City, and believes it is important for people to get involved in the community and give back.
She is also involved in JC Project, which does a series of large scale street fairs, mostly downtown. Around Thanksgiving she gets involved with feeding the homeless on Thanksgiving with a Jersey City-based homeless advocacy group.
Learning to give back to the community
She said she learned a lot from the Silverman brothers about the need to give back. Her employers have been very supportive of her efforts.
“They give to nearly every arts program in the city,” she said.
Although rumored to be running for office, Bunney said she has no political plans, and won’t be running in 2017 in the next municipal election.
“I don’t know if that will change in future,” she said. “I didn’t expect half of what has happened to me since I’ve come here. Maybe in 20 years, who knows?”
She said her primary interest now is to encourage people to volunteer.
“There are so many organizations in need of volunteers,” she said.
One of the programs she is promoting is Principal for a Day, which is a yearly program in which community people shadow the principal for a day. This takes place in all 40 Jersey City schools.
She said people have an opportunity to get in on the renaissance of Jersey City.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she said. “Great things are happening everywhere.”
She sometimes thinks about what she would still be doing if she was living in South Dakota.
“Most of the friends I had growing up have multiple children,” she said. “They didn’t go to school. I’m pretty lucky, if you think about it.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.