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Newark Gentrification

Essay by   •  April 29, 2011  •  3,395 Words (14 Pages)  •  1,535 Views

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GENTRIFICATION IN “BRICK CITY”

***N E W A R K***

Originally, the term gentrification was invented to describe the residential movement of middle-class people into the low-income areas of London. (Zukin, 131). I understand gentrification to be a plan that focuses on developing urban renewal plans and projects to help uplift and restore low-income urban areas. This is all done in hopes to attract wealthier residents in order to boost the economy of the neighborhood or city. It has been debated that gentrification can be linked to reductions in crime rates, increased property values, and renewed community activism. My hometown of Newark, NJ is currently undergoing such a process. Newark legislators and businessmen have come to call this development the “Newark Renaissance”. Starting with the destruction of the central projects in the early 90s, there have been a lot of high-profile projects in the downtown Newark area, including the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Riverfront Stadium which host games for the Newark Bears baseball team, and the New Jersey Devil Ice Hockey rink. There are also many non-profit groups and five major CDCs (community development corporations) in Newark doing work in the local community. These CDCs function much like the CBOs (community based organization) found in neighborhoods in Brooklyn, in that they provide structure and support for the public need. Nicole Marwell states in her book, Bargaining for Brooklyn, that some of the most important and considerable contributions of Brooklyn’s CBOs were their substantial improvements to the housing stocks in their area. Marwell contends that these “community based corporations and other nonprofit housing developers across the nation have rehabilitated and built from scratch hundreds of thousands of units of housing in the places where poor people live” (Marwell, 35). In Newark specifically, the work of the CDCs is mainly detailed by the construction of various housing development projects all throughout the city. These CDCs are concentrating on building mixed-income communities and adding some middle-income housing. Unfortunately, all of these housing development projects are economically motivated endeavors, built to attract outsiders into the community, and are leaving the needs and issues of the people already present on the back burner. These development projects are designed to attract wealthier people to Newark and the residents feel as though they will eventually be unable to afford to live in the city, and they will be replaced. The residents would like to see our politicians focus more on strengthening and improving the conditions of the people, neighborhoods, and communities that are already here, not move us out and build completely new communities. Joseph Della Fave, the director of Newark’s Ironbound Community Corporation, which is a partnership founded by community residents to assist neighborhood people in developing community based programs, argues that it is locally unproductive to build art centers like the NJPAC, ice hockey stadiums and housing developments like Society Hills (a large middle-income subdivision) and not revitalize the neighborhoods themselves. He says, “you’re back to juxtaposing the needs of the people who live here and trying to move the city forward” (Axel-Lute, 3).

Like many critics of gentrification, I am interested in exploring the consequences of gentrification in Newark in terms of population displacement and urban decline. There has been little local community discussion and involvement in the gentrification happing in Newark. I would like to specifically explore the impacts of the construction, opening, and development of various urban renewal projects such as the NJPAC center and various housing developments. I’d like to draw upon developments like these because they are expected to generate money for the city and stimulate community engagement and support. Many residents feel as though the city is not trying to work with them, rather they are trying to work around them. I am particularly interested in this topic, not only because Newark is my hometown and it is familiar to me, but also because I am extremely passionate about any movement, law, project, partnership, operation or venture that will improve the conditions of my city. Given all the circumstances that help classify Newark as low-income, dangerous, and unhappy, I just don’t believe the building of an ice hockey stadiums in the middle of downtown, surrounded by crack-heads and chaos is the right way to “renew” the city. On the other hand, many housing renewal projects have and are anticipated to positively impact the environmental and social aspects of Newark. This dichotomy has generated an ongoing debate as to whether gentrification in Newark has generally positively or negatively impacted the city. I do not seek to answer this question, rather, I am interested in exploring different aspects of the two arguments and as a Newark resident myself, drawing my own conclusion.

Numerous cities in America have been betrayed by processes like gentrification. During the decline of American cities after World War II, the federal government implemented a policy tool for countering the economic and social decline many of these cities were experiencing. The federal government called this tool “urban renewal”. Newark’s population growth in the early part of the century followed by a decline in the latter part of the century has followed a classic American urban pattern. As immigrants came to American cities to work in industrial production through the Second World War, Newark saw steady growth through the 1930s. The city’s population remained basically stable for the next 20 years with only slight variances in population. However, in the years after World War II, Newark experienced a steady decay in population and employment. Civil unrest and racial tensions in the 1960s and 1970s accelerated this decline and by 1970, Newark's population had declined by a 14% decrease over 20 years. With fewer available jobs, residential population continued to decline and by 1990, Newark’s population was down to 275,000 residents. This population regression slowed down through the middle of the decade and by 1996 Newark had a population of 269,000 residents. The population has increased since then, and according to the 2000 census, the city’s population had climbed to 273,546.

Given its struggles with population influxes and many other economic and social problems, Newark officials decided the city needed a change. Specifically for Newark, this process would include

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