The Physics Of Gentrification: Newark’s Explosive Growth Has A Price
In Newark, around $2 billion in commercial and residential development is currently under construction.
The announcement of a luxury loft development and a Whole Foods are usually signs that you’re either about to be priced out of your neighborhood, or you’ve just made a boatload of cash. Newark, New Jersey, blighted for years by crime, poverty and drugs, is the latest city to unfurl its billowing sails and capitalize on the winds of gentrification.
For years, big money investors shied away from Newark, because, well, it’s Newark. But particularly for its reputation for crime and corruption. But now, new developments are taking hold faster than weeds in an empty lot in the city’s troubled South Ward. But in the Central Ward, an apartment building called 24 Jones is offering two months of free rent with studio apartments starting at $1580/month. A price that would be inconceivable for residents elsewhere.
The boom in Newark’s new construction is breathtaking. Around $2 billion in commercial and residential development is currently under construction. The corporate investment ($500 million from Goldman Sachs and $368 from the Newark based Prudential Financial) is the kind of money the city once craved. Now that they have it, questions are being raised about just what the Newark of the future will look like and who will live there.
“To me it seems sort of like a tidal wave that’s coming…the difference is that Newark is a deeper bowl,” Deputy Mayor and Director of Housing and Economic Development, Bay Adofo-Wilson told the New Jersey Star Ledger. “When it hits here it’s going to fill up.”
But what “filling up” actually means is a matter of contention. There is no question that Newark is rife with abandoned buildings and empty lots, but they are generally in the poorer areas where crime is up (there were 124 homicides in 2015) and rents are low.
“I find the money being poured into the downtown area of Newark is not doing much to benefit the folks in the neighborhoods, especially in the North and South Wards,” says Carol Jenkins, a board member of the Newark Museum Business and Community Council. “Most of the wards in Newark are divided ethnically as in most cities, and the wards with the lowest incomes usually don’t benefit from the gentrification in the downtown.”
Like gentrifying neighborhoods in Brooklyn and the Bronx, Newark’s past, as local historians like Ms. Jenkins are quick to point out, was not always one of inner-city blues. “I have a brother who lives in the South Ward, that years ago, was a Jewish neighborhood. (Writer) Philip Roth lived just a few blocks from where he lives and it thrived then because the immigrants who settled there. They took pride in their neighborhood,” she says, adding, “The immigrants who now inhabit the area, do not take the same pride because the homes are old and the residents are not afforded the same city services as the downtown area”.
Developers are converging on the downtown area. The Lotus Equity Group, based in New York, recently bought Bears Stadium in Newark to build a mixed-use project. L & M Development Partners are renovating the 1901 Hahne and Company Department Store to the tune of $174m. But in a city of 282,000 residents with a third below the poverty line, new condos will do little to benefit the long term issues that have plagued Newark. It’s not something that many long-term locals, like Ms. Carol Jenkins, envisage being fixed with cinder blocks and sheet rock.
“I believe the only way to decrease crime is to educate parents,” she says. “There is little parental involvement with children today, especially low-income folks who work more than one job to make ends meet. No amount of new development will stop crime without parents parenting their kids at a very early age and stay on top of what they are into.”
While the explosion of growth in Newark benefits the city’s infrastructure and some of its residents, many are left to increasingly ghettoized areas of violence and poverty. Gentrification, once again, brandishes its double-edged sword.
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