In my Urban Planning course there have been several mentions of the mess Bergen County is in terms of the amount of municipalities. As a current resident of Bergen County it was never something I had really ever realized before. After taking the time to take a look at it, it was indeed rather odd that out of New Jersey’s 566 municipalities 70 are in Bergen County, which is 1 of 21 counties. This disparity can easily be seen in the map below. It can also be seen that a good amount of the towns/boroughs are somewhat small in area, but most of them are equally small in population. Naturally, this oddity inspired some curiosity in me which led to me do some researching.
It didn’t take long to find out the reason after just doing a quick search on Bergen County. Apparently there was a period dubbed Boroughitis due to the crazy rise in municipalities over a short period of time. Through a law it was able for people to separate from their township and create a borough through referendum without the need of any governmental approval. The citizens responded to this by creating boroughs left and right specifically in the 1890’s. One such occurrence, the incorporation of Pompton Lakes, is written about in this excerpt from New York Times in 1895, here. The Borough now accounts for 200 out of 566 municipal governments in New Jersey, many being created during the height of Boroughitis. My town, Bogota, was one such town. It was created in 1894 from parts of then Ridgefield Township and is thought to be named after two families, Bogert and Banta, who were some of the first families to live on the land. Although there are not particular reasons stated for why some townships divided, some of which were even created just for the sake of it, one that might help give us some insight on the Boroughitis phenomenon was the township of Chatham. Chatham separated from Chatham Township because the citizens wanted gas lighting, but their local government refused to finance it so the borough of Chatham was created.
Problems like this, although seemingly archaic, really demonstrate the importance of the public’s part in planning. It also shows the importance to revisit the Master Plan, and make any changes. When the public are involved in an organized manner and voice their thoughts and opinions coherently to a planning agency, their concerns and ideas can and should become an integral part of the town’s future. If Chatham Township had listened to their citizens and supplied gas lighting through the streets Chatham Township would still be intact and so might many others.