Newark is modernizing at a rapid pace. You don’t need a fancy video to know that — but there’s certainly one available.
The key, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said, is to not allow the city to lose sight of its past — or its purpose.
“Newark is beautiful,” he said, noting the increasing wealth for some but not all.
“We have to remember everybody else and that dream in their head — and the dream in the children’s heads — that they, one day, will have a part of what we’re creating here in the city of Newark.
“You can’t ever forget that.”
Baraka, speaking in a one-on-one conversation with Angelo Genova at the first Newark Summit event Monday, talked about all the things he’s doing to ensure Newark is still a land of opportunity, starting with housing — perhaps the city’s biggest issue.
Here are five of his top comments:
“It’s our job to provide for everyone, to make sure everyone has an opportunity.”
Baraka was speaking of the idea that Newark always has been a destination for people seeking a new opportunity, whether they were immigrants from Europe or those escaping slavery or Jim Crow laws in the South. That can’t change — even as the city evolves, he said.
“There are still remnants of that here in our city,” he said. “That same kind of feeling of immigrants in the ’60s and ’50s and ’40s, who found a way to Newark, still exists here today — families still trying to figure out the same thing. We want to keep that character, we want to keep that placemaking culture, that cultural of manufacturing, of building, of art, of creativity, of immigrants. We want to keep that culture. That’s the culture that’s Newark. It’s alive; it’s well. And we want to build off it.”
It’s not just about the American dream, but economic reality, he said.
“If we ignore half or three-quarters or a third of our population, not only is that morally inept, it’s economically unsustainable,” he said.
“We can’t have a 1967 Oldsmobile that we’re driving in a race with a modern Porsche.”
Baraka said a big problem the city is having is that it is developing faster than its ability to keep up with it. It’s the reason the city is creating a second zoning board.
“Our struggle is our resources won’t allow us to expand in the way that we need to expand as quickly as we want to,” he said.
The city needs to more services, more DPW workers, more police officers and firefighters — more people in code enforcement, he said.
“It takes resources for us to do that.”
“Our zoning ordinance particularly speaks to our desire to deal with climate change.”
Baraka explained how Newark’s heat island index is the second-highest in the nation due to so many paved lots.
It’s why green roofing, infrastructure around preventing flooding and developments with solar are strong.
“It really is a way to exclude people from being in housing that they need.”
Baraka addressed the inability of many Newarkers to meet the high standards needed to get rental housing, saying it is the result of unfair practices that limit potential renters, including credit scores.
“That stuff has to go away,” he said.
Baraka said it’s why the city has taken over the process for the first 90 days of a new opening.
“Allow people to live in your neighborhood and watch your taxes decrease.”
It’s Baraka’s interesting answer on gentrification. Yes, investment money is coming into Newark — and that is raising the cost of housing and rent. Create more housing and more levels of housing. And create more housing in the suburbs, where it’s harder to build, and things will even out, he said.
“Gentrification is really a result of capital investment,” he said.
Because other communities do not allow for housing density, Newark has to be creative and engineer a plan for all of New Jersey.
“While some people get to take care of just a portion of New Jersey, we have to take care of everybody in the state of New Jersey,” he said. “That’s what causes the housing strain for us in the city. And it’ll always be there, unless people take a larger portion of their burden.
“Housing families is all of our burden, not just the mayor of Newark. When we figure that out, it becomes easier for us to do this. And housing prices are stabilized.”