Community building: How Kean University is working to revitalize neighborhood in Trenton

School will use $750K federal grant on economic development initiative that aims to assist Coalport neighborhood in capital city

Economic development works best when it uplifts an entire community.

Kean University, thanks to a two-year, $750,000 grant from the federal government, will put that idea to the test in Trenton.

Kean officials announced Monday a project to revitalize the Coalport neighborhood of New Jersey’s capital city — an initiative that includes plans for new housing, economic and employment opportunities to support residents.

The Coalport Neighborhood Revitalization Planning Project will be led by Kean’s John S. Watson Institute for Urban Policy and Research and the university’s Michael Graves College School of Public Architecture.

“This project will create the blueprint for the transformation of the Coalport neighborhood, with engaged professionals from the Watson Institute and the School of Public Architecture working directly with community residents,” Kean University President Lamont Repollet said.

“As the state’s urban research university, we are proud to play a pivotal role in the future of the Coalport neighborhood. Kean University is committed to serving as an anchor institution in communities throughout New Jersey, including our state capital.”

A one-time thriving manufacturing center in Trenton’s North Ward, the Coalport neighborhood became distressed after factors such as redlining drove investment away from the area, leaving behind abandoned buildings and an underserved community.

Along with addressing housing and economic opportunities for residents, the Coalport project aims to increase access to improved public spaces and build connections to adjacent communities for additional opportunities.

Teams from the Watson Institute and School of Public Architecture will engage with local Coalport residents, gathering input from the community that will be used to guide the development of the revitalization plan.

Joseph Youngblood II, senior vice president for transformational learning and external affairs at Kean, said the project matches the mission and the vision of the school.

“Kean University is committed to leading the Coalport Neighborhood Revitalization Planning Project by harnessing the power of community engagement, innovative design and economic development to create a visionary plan for this historic neighborhood, ensuring that every stakeholder’s voice is heard and reflected in the community’s vision for a better future,” he said.

As New Jersey’s urban research university, Kean’s mission includes endeavors such as the two-year Coalport planning project.

“This project reflects the Watson Institute’s over 30-year commitment to supporting thriving, healthy families and businesses in the capital city, and we are proud to continue this critical work,” Barbara George Johnson, Kean’s vice president of external affairs and urban policy and research, said.

Michael Graves College Dean David Mohney said the project is a “major step forward” for the School of Public Architecture’s mission of engaging with New Jersey communities. It will provide research opportunities for Michael Graves students.

“Our students and faculty believe that architecture can improve the public environment for everyone,” Mohney said. “Thanks to the partnership with the Watson Institute, we now have the opportunity to do that. We believe that this planning grant will lead to a series of built projects that affect the lives of the people of Trenton positively, creating a better, healthier environment, with better opportunities for housing and work.”

The project is expected to include resource assessment, potential strategies for redevelopment, physical 3D models of the area and a detailed redevelopment plan.

The Watson Institute and School of Public Architecture will also work with The Practice of Democracy, or TPD, an organization that conducts research on the environment, land use and good governance. Their goal is to develop and advise local governments and public agencies on ways to improve the economic health, environmental resilience and quality of life in their communities.

With experience in similar revitalization planning projects in New Jersey and neighboring states, TPD will provide Kean a detailed analysis of the project site location and real estate market conditions, local resource mapping, a review of regional and local factors and existing land use/zoning reports in support of the revitalization planning.

U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12th Dist.) joined Kean in announcing the launch. The project is funded by a Congressional appropriation, which Watson Coleman helped secure, and is directed through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“The Coalport Revitalization Planning Project is an investment shaped by the vision of those who live in the historic Trenton neighborhood,” she said. “This project prioritizes community input, historical context and social equity, and I am proud to support it.

“As the only appropriator from the New Jersey congressional delegation, I want to make sure that New Jerseyans’ tax dollars come right back to make a difference in our communities.”

Watson Coleman’s district includes Trenton.

Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora said he is “thrilled” to support the project.

“This initiative marks a significant step toward transforming our Coalport neighborhood into a thriving, vibrant community,” he said. “By actively engaging our residents through community visioning, conducting thorough resource assessments, and developing innovative strategies for redevelopment, we are ensuring that the future of Coalport is shaped by those who know it best — its residents.”