Renaissance Might Be the Wrong Word for Newark

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newark real estate renaissanceNewark has received a lot of press recently, from its ranking as one of the most vibrant arts cities in the U.S. and its rise to a top tech market just behind cities like Seattle and San Francisco, to the decided increase in development with over 7,000 units in the pipeline. This summer also marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 riots. In a recent Huffington Post article, contributor Justin Williams uses Newark’s current omnipresence as a chance to reflect on the media’s representation of his city’s rise–don’t call it a comeback.

The news features at the fore right now, commemorating and contextualizing how a “combustible mix of political corruption, de-industrialization, institutional racism, and massive white flight led to the city’s current poverty rate hovering around 30% and the social issues that come with it,” tell the right story, according to Mr. Williams. Any article about increasing re-investment in Newark is on the right track, too. It’s the “emerging Newark renaissance narrative [that] has real weaknesses,” writes Mr. Williams.

Stories revolving around Newark’s renaissance focus on what’s currently going on in the city, often giving not even a glance backward to the locals who have been working hard to improve the city for years. Newark’s arts community, in particular, is not a new story; they’ve been cultivating and contributing to the culture of the city too long to be considered revitalizing–they have been, simply, vital all along.

As development surges, Mayor Ras Baraka has advocated “inclusionary zoning that promotes income diversity and local hiring initiatives,” but Newark has also been called the “new Brooklyn” which is not only–as Mr. Williams puts it–a lazy label, but also worrisome for residents who fear displacement due to development. Additionally, Brooklyn has never suffered the massive exodus that Newark has (and is only just recovering from). From this angle, Newark seems far more comparable to cities like Buffalo and Detroit.

The Brooklyn analogy is doubly worrisome because it frames Newark within the larger gentrification conversation which excludes the middle and working classes and waits for corporate America to save the day, rendering “middle class blacks and latinos that choose to live in inner cities invisible” and justifying “urban neglect until, quite frankly, white people move in.”

Mr. Williams concedes Newark’s history of crime keeps the city somewhat segregated and it is still an issue despite crime levels hitting historic lows. The city could also benefit from upgrades in infrastructure and services as well as attention paid to deteriorating apartment buildings and foreclosed homes.

One story never fits all and many ledes too often simplify the fall and rise of New Jersey’s largest city. As Mr. Williams observes, “Like Baltimore, Newark is a post-industrial port city. You’ve seen The Wire. This place is much more complicated than often presented by the media.”

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Since 1904, Newark has been segregated, mismanaged, left to rot, serve as a penitentiary without walls, blamed for its exorbitant per student education costs (Abbott district blahblahblah). At the same time Brooklyn joined New York City, there were plans to enlarge Greater Newark to include much of West Hudson and Essex county, de facto integrating the very minority heavy Newark and swallowing up surrounding industrial areas to increase rateables. This was quashed by Trenton and the surrounding burbs which relied on an explosion of tiny municipalities to resist any sane organization, integration and loss of clout for the nearby Jersey City democratic machine. The truth is that the idea of collapsing approximately fifteen surrounding one-horse towns into Newark would solve nearly all of Newark’s problems and instantly integrate and enrich the city to be on a par with Brooklyn. Kearny, East Newark, Harrison, Bellville, Bloomfield, Montclair, Verona, the Oranges (East, West and South), Irvington, Linden should all join Greater Newark and shed 30% of their supervisory cost overlap with no change in front line staff and services. Look closely at the salaries that these overlapping muni supervisors make: it will astound even the most cynical of you. Ras Baraka is great (and stubborn!): best mayor in Newark’s entire history. But the money has to come from somewhere, and no one is going to allow increases in the horrible property taxes in NJ to bail Newark out. Greater Newark: it’s the obvious solution, and even more obvious because there’s only one reason New Jersey doesn’t want to do the smart, cost-effective and humane thing. The state was copperhead against Lincoln and not a damn thing has changed. Racismo!

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