The last decade was much kinder to Newark than the ones preceding it. Development projects have improved large swaths of downtown by adding new office spaces, retail, upgraded parks and even some trendy amenities. The city’s population is growing again and overall public safety has improved (although some neighborhoods took a step backward this year). As the next wave of development promises to touch the last major tracks of Downtown’s available land, momentum is shifting towards addressing the blight, vacant lots and zombie foreclosures in the outer wards.
Of course, this is a complex and paramount issue facing all post-industrial cities that experienced massive post World War II population loss, but in Newark specifically, urban decay is both root and symptom of so many problems like land banking, negligent absentee landlords, lack of code enforcement, illegal dumping, unhealthy conditions, threats to public safety, lack of affordable housing and gaps in public perceptions of progress.
In the last two years, we’ve seen these issues begin to be rapidly addressed in neighborhoods like Mount Pleasant/Lower Broadway, with a concentrated focus of infill construction and gut renovations of dilapidated and burned out homes. These necessary changes are not only overdue, but also provide spaces for middle-class people (these are not the much dreaded “luxury” developments) to inject income stability into neighborhoods struggling with generational poverty. Inevitably, the pandemic inspired real estate boom and quick turnaround on some home rehabs raise important questions about quality and affordability, but this is much better problem to have than those associated with long-term disinvestment. Let’s hope the next decade is as kind to Newark’s neighborhoods as the last was to Downtown.
The Board of Editors
Featured illustration by Sharon Adarlo
Photos by Henri Antikainen