The One Minute Geographer: New Jersey, The Garden State?

Jim Fonseca
3 min readSep 2, 2023
Photo of Jersey City taken from the World Trade Center in New York City. Photo by Reena Rose Sibayan of The Jersey Journal on nj.com

Forget the refineries and what you see along the I-95 corridor as you approach New York. Sure, New Jersey has gritty towns and congested freeways lined with oil refineries and their acrid plumes of burning gas. But New Jersey has quaint towns and some of the most elite suburbs in the United States. It has agriculture and the wilderness (by Eastern standards) called the Pinelands, formerly known as the Pine Barrens as called on the map below.

Map from worldatlas.com

The Pinelands are even more evident as the dark green area on the map of population density below. New Jersey has ocean beach towns that are vacation havens and a string of historic towns that beckon to tourists.

Think of New Jersey first as an island. To the east is the Atlantic Ocean and the Hudson River separating the state from New York. Along its western boundary is the Delaware River widening into the Delaware Bay separating New Jersey from Pennsylvania and the Atlantic again to the south. Only a 45-mile stretch of land connects the state to the mainland along its northern boundary with New York. That line of land connection is shown as a straight purple line on the map below. Save for bridges and tunnels, New Jersey is almost an island, and a garden island at that. It is The Garden State, but you have to get off the freeways and away from the metro New York and metro Philadelphia sprawl to see the real greenery.

Map of New Jersey’s population density from Wikipedia. Blue lines drawn by the author.

All that said about islands and gardens, we do have to recognize that New Jersey is the most densely populated and the most urbanized of the 50 states. Its almost 9.3 million people give it a density of more than 1260 people per square mile — that’s three times the density of other well-populated states such as New York State; four times the density of Pennsylvania and about five times that of California. It’s the ninth-most populated state.

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Jim Fonseca

Geography professor (retired) writes The One Minute Geographer featuring This Fragile Earth. Top writer in Transportation and, in past months, Travel.