Downtown Newark is scheduled to receive an unmistakable makeover. The future calls for thousands of residential apartments and condos to spring up and seed an expected flourishing downtown lifestyle. Anticipation is that these new dwelling places will be extraordinarily attractive for current New York residents who crave the Big Apple but not its high cost of living space. Downtown Newark will offer a far cheaper rent bill just 30 minutes or less away from the many employment and lifestyle accoutrements offered just across the river. This is a great bargain for New Yorkers and others seeking quick access to New York and discount living. How Newark residents will benefit is far less clear.
No doubt the anticipated arrival of the crowds expected to come across to this side of the Hudson with the archetypical New York mindset and cultural appetite will open avenues of opportunity for business ventures in downtown Newark. Whether local residents will be positioned to capitalize on the expected boon is highly questionable and equally unlikely. Given the relative lack of business acumen and access to capital in the broad indigenous community, newly created downtown money making breaks will likely fall into the hands of a small circle of already well established land and business holders. New businesses will provide more revenue for the city. And while an increase of tax dollars into municipal coffers is always welcomed, the promise of opportunity for average Newarkers seems to be slipping farther into the distance as plans for the future are unveiled.
For sure, the downtown we now know is being readied for the dustbin. Vendors and even long established merchants will have to move along to areas more suitable for both their product and clientele. The view of the future is far more upscale in contemplation of both dwellers and shoppers. This is very simply one cost of the progress that comes with a new arena and focus on high-end housing. In fact, as we observed the traffic rerouting on Broad and other downtown streets as preparations for the arena opening were being made, it occurred to us that this might just be the forerunner of permanently pushing local commuters to back street routes. Think how nice our downtown would look if it was a bit more passive and “strolling pedestrian” friendly.
Too many long-time indigenous Newarkers are without the financial means to buy their way into what are destined to become Newark’s new designer neighborhoods. These pricy addresses have certain types in mind. But Newark can choose to reject ultra elitism in development of its scheme—downtown and otherwise. The city can rely on creativity to avoid succumbing to classism. People of varying means and wealth ought to be integrated into newly planned communities. This is likely the hope of well-intentioned professional planners. Yet developers with deep pockets and access might dictate something more sinister.
Where, and among whom, one lives can often lead to opportunity and success that is otherwise denied or unavailable. The mere exposure to circumstances, people and events sometimes offers motivation that propels and sustains the recipient. Simply not being well off should not necessarily roadblock these pathways to success and abundance.
How downtown Newark is developed can signal Newark’s intention to look at its citizenry through a single human lens. At least it presents leaders with an opportunity to be expansive in their considerations and planning. We should all hope they make the most of it.
If the city chooses a truly progressive approach to downtown development the community must provide support even though there will be painful dislocation and inevitable inequity. Major projects of this nature and magnitude are never completely fair to all involved. There will be winners and losers but government must work transparently to minimize the gap between the two. And government must also use its enormous powers to insure that reasonable opportunity is presented to small and minority businesses for overall involvement and substantial economic gain under any development regime.
With the changes that are likely downtown, there will be a perception of loss for existing players and indigenous Newarkers. This might well be the case but it need not be. In any event inconsideration and poor planning need not exacerbate the perception itself. Citizens are more likely to be accommodating to necessary change if they can identify with the winners even if they are not themselves among them.
Change is inevitable. For true success, in Newark, inclusive change is essential. Newark’s leaders should pledge allegiance to fundamental equity. Without such a pledge average Newark citizens will remain disadvantaged in the pursuit of opportunities born of their circumstances. Wouldn't that be a shame?
January 9, 2008