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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