Bridgewater pros and cons

One of my readers is considering moving to Bridgewater, NJ. For her and for others who found my blog looking for my opinion on this community, I have put together my own short list. These are some of my favorite and least favorite things about my current home.

We moved here in 2003 because of the seemingly unique blend of great schools and relatively low taxes. Our decision was also influenced by an article on Bridgewater we saw in the New York Times titled If You're Thinking of Moving to Bridgewater. (NB: it's old so you may have to sign up with an account to read it). The schools are no longer the top schools that they were and the tax base has changed so that the local people pay more and businesses are paying less. But much of what they right still rings true.

Do I put pros or cons first? I'll start with ambivalence.

Ambivalent (having feelings that contradict one another) reasons (both pro and con):
The schools. I have sung the praises of our kids' school(s) for the better part of 7 years. For the past four I have have looked a bit more critically at their deficiencies.

I am also ambivalent about those who run the schools - both as paid supervisory staff and the elected Board of Education. I am very perturbed at the BREA (the Bridgewater Teachers' Union)

Summer options. The township runs a playgrounds program. It used to be free - now it is $100 and open to kids from 9am-3pm. My kids loved it until this year. My daughter can't go because it is too far from home. Kids who have working parents can't usually attend since it doesn't cover most parents needs for childcare. It closes when it rains.

Pools - there are no (to my knowledge) public pools in Bridgewater. Either you are a member of a pool club, or you have one in your back yard. Once you join a pool it is your summer identity. You end up socializing with those in your pool more than those at other pools. It's just the way it is. Even those who are fortunate enough to have a pool sometimes join a pool, theoretically so their kids can swim on a swim team, but I think it is a "have your cake and eat it too" thing. Some days I think even less rosy thoughts about this... 

The job market. There used to be lots of opportunities here, primarily in pharma and telecommunications. Today these industries and most others are going through layoffs and merges.

Top 10 reasons for moving to Bridgewater:

I have made wonderful friends here! You know who you are....

There are lots of transplants here. People like me who don't have roots in BW and are therefore very open to making new friends. The vast majority of people I know here come from other towns in New Jersey - and a few are from other states or other countries.

We live in a neighborhood where neighbors socialize with one another. Most of my friends have similar experiences - block parties, group barbecues and friendly help are the norm, not the exception. When we were looking at houses we got a feel for a neighborhood by showing up at the time parents put their kids on the bus and then talking to the people waiting.  (At my bus stop you'd get the feeling that there aren't many K-4 aged kids. Good to know if you have one).

It's equidistant between New York and Philadelphia - so dual career families find it to be a good medium. For me it's convenient for day trips to either city and we take them, especially to New York. Although I would not advocate commuting to either of these places, many people do it every day and it works fine for them. There are lots of companies still based here or within 10 miles so you can get a job with a very short commute.

There is a Wegmans and lots of good shopping in Bridgewater. My favorite grocery store chain (get their artisan bread ONCE and you'll just know). For those who prefer Shop Rite, we have one just a hair to the West of BW and just a hair to the East of BW. We also have almost any national chain store (Best Buy, Crate and Barrel, Costco to name a few). Many others are nearby. There is a popular mall - but that might not be your scene...

There are many many many extra curricular opportunities for children. There are lots of different levels for soccer or baseball/softball. Two different organizations run competitive swim teams (the Y and the JCC). In the summer there are numerous private swim clubs - some have more competitive swim teams than others.

It is definitely NOT "Real Housewives from New Jersey" here.  Lots of people - like me - are very laid back, not social climbers (where would they climb to?) not wearing the latest clothes or getting their nails done every three days. In fact it is so uncommon to be outlandishly dressed up that I call a certain person I know by the loving nickname "hair and nails".

It's pretty here - there are four distinct seasons and the options for things to do in your free time are nearly endless.

The Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are well organized and offer lots of opportunities for young people and adult volunteers.

Top 10 reasons for moving somewhere else in NJ:

There is no downtown where people gather. Most of the restaurants and stores are part of national chains and there is a lack of home-town feel. When I run into people it isn't on Main Street sipping coffee in the local cafe, it's at the Grocery Store on a soccer field or at the mall. (As much as I love Starbucks, it would be nice to support a local business too if there were any).

There are some very judgmental parents out there. Sometimes it is the subtle "I would never do that" after you tell someone something you've done. Happened to me today! I said "We're taking X with us on vacation this summer." It was followed by "I would never let my kid go."

The town often votes down the school budget. If you don't live in a community that regularly supports its schools, then it might not be the best place for you to raise kids.

Expense: Housing is very expensive. Taxes are high. And it isn't always as nice as the price would make it seem. That said, while most families are "mostly upper-middle class" there is a certain amount of economic and social diversity, but not much.

Despite the high taxes the township provides very few services. Even our main roads don't have street lights! The fire department is volunteer - so our taxes should be low. And snow removal? The worst I have ever experienced in the US. There is little public transportation within Bridgewater. There are buses and trains to New York City - but I haven't found a way to get to Philly from here, nor even how to get to Somerville from my house without a car - or bike.

Everyone knows everyone's business. People talk. I have had a couple of acquaintances make the paper for their um... misdeeds. It isn't pleasant.

If you are a Democrat you are a political minority. If you want to live by like-minded people and you're a left winger, this might not be the right zip code for you. Although it is an unscientific poll, I'm quite sure that Catholics are the majority followed by Jews - but that's just my world. I could be way off base....

These are my thoughts. What are yours? What did I leave out???


This isn't an exhaustive list and I assume I will change it as I think of things over time.


Anonymous said…
Thank you for this very interesting analysis! It turns out that the sale went through, despite some glitches, and we are now officially Bridgewater residents, although not really living there yet (have to do some repairs first).

We like Wegmans too! :) And we've already been there a few times. The familiarity of the stores, including that one, was probably one of the subliminal things that pushed us into choosing this town. No downtown? Shucks. We've walked through Main Street in Somerville, and assumed there was one in Bridgewater too, but never confirmed it. Oh well. There is certainly a LOT of deer where we live. That's nice for the kid to see. We even saw a baby deer drinking milk from a mommy deer recently. (Maybe not a lot of deer, could be the same ones walking everywhere.)

I think a lot of the cons that you mentioned are also things that occur in many other towns. Not only parents, but people in general, can be so judgemental. I admit, I have my own opinions, but I would never say them out loud. Every parent is doing the best they can, for the most part. Gossipers - they're everywhere. Lack of funding for schools - unfortunately, that appears widespread nowadays. We did some research and NJ as a whole is actually quite up there in terms of academic achievement.

As parents, one of the main reasons we bought in Bridgewater was the school system. Bridgewater is also Tier 2 for radon, another important factor for us. There are some affordable, gorgeous houses way out northwest, in the mountains, but they're in Tier 1 radon areas. Sure people can put in a mitigation system, but some people just aren't comfortable living on uranium (that might be an exaggeration, but you get the point).

Excellent school systems, newer and affordable buildings (condos/townhouses) with no lead paint, and low radon levels. We still can't afford a newer single family house though. For the same price of our little condo/townhouse, we could've gotten a huge mansion-esque house in south Jersey. But again, the schools here are better.

Since you mentioned the mall, I'll add my ideas on it. There's no fountain. I think it's ironic and kinda funny that there is no water in Bridgewater mall. A lot of malls I've been to have fountains inside. My kid likes them, but in that one, it's just stores. Nice stores though. And Haagen Dasz. :)

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