Newark’s Green Dream

The American Dream is a Green Dream. —Cory Booker

On a hot summer night a few years ago, I rushed my son to Newark Beth Israel Hospital for an asthma attack. Along the way to cross the town, block after block of vacant land and decayed industrial buildings registered the city’s scars from the treacherous 60’s. My son was sobbing in the back seat, “What will happen to me? I need some fresh air…” Unrolling the car windows, however, I felt only hot air mixed with odors from the 24 incinerators burning the region’s garbage. On any summer day, the Star-Ledger’s weather page always records Newark with the highest temperature in the entire Metropolitan Area. The city is choked by heat from the Newark Airport with over 20 percent of the city’s land, from the bare black pavement of hundreds of parking lots, and from tens of thousands of cars on the four crisscrossing major interstate highways.

Hopefully, that familiar Newark will become history. On Friday morning, hundreds of conservationists, green industry leaders, and concerned citizens gathered at NJIT for Newark’s Green Future Summit, featuring prominent authorities on sustainable development and job creation. Newark is on its way to be a national model for clean and efficient energy use in a green economy and a “shining example of how to rebuild the very core of America, its cities,” asserted Phil Angelides of the Apollo Alliance. Angelides ran for Californian Governor in 2006 on the Democratic ticket, with impeccable environmental credentials that shamed Schwarzenegger into “re-engineering” his Hummer. The Alliance’s Kate Gordon spent countless hours in the past year to organize the Summit, as a key effort to create a comprehensive investment strategy to build American’s clean energy economy. She called for a national effort through local initiatives through “my home, my community, and my city.”

Last year, Prevention Magazine ranked Newark on the very bottom of 100 American cities as the least “walkable” city. In the past two years, according to his introduction to the Summit, Mayor Cory Booker has experienced his own journey towards his “Green Consciousness.” He realized, “Focusing on green in the urban context is meeting a moral imperative, an economic urgency, and an energy crisis.” With a bold and audacious Green agenda, Booker believes that the city can “clean our environment, create jobs, and generate wealth in sections that have been closed out of real and substantive economic opportunity for generations.”

The City’s website recently listed 25 accomplishments of this administration, such as crime reduction, Prisoner Re-Entry Program, and immunizations. Although these are all great accomplishments, the list, however, unarguably failed to account for the most significant accomplishment. The city, with its energetic Director of Planning and Community Development Toni Griffin, has assertively started its blueprint towards its Green Dream for “Growth, Choice, and Sustainability.” In her presentation, Shifting Forward 2025, Griffin depicted a model sustainable city, with features such as high density development, inter-mode transportation, energy conservation, and economic competitiveness. In Newark’s history, there were great planners and builders, such as the nation’s first municipal planner Harland Bartholomew, the highly capable James Costello in the 30’s, and the dedicated Louis Danzig in the 50’s and 60’s. However, nobody has involved, energized, and educated ordinary residents of every neighborhood through all forms of community outreach to create “a culture of planning” as has Toni Griffin.

Among the local participants of the Greene Future dialog, Baye Adofo-Wilson’s Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District has attracted great national attention for its sustainable community vision, for its “Green Collar” job development among Newarkers, and for its creation of the city’s first LEED certified (“Green”) building. John Taylor of the Brick City Urban Farm has wheeled his locally grown spinach to enthusiastic audiences, including many young students who want to join him to grow green dreams in the urban center. However, together with the Great Newark Conservancy, his effort will have to expand beyond container-grown produce into farming thousands of acres of flat eco-roofs and re-foresting hundreds of miles of bare sidewalks.

Green Dreams, or any dreams, however, would not come easily true to under-privileged people. Wilbur McNeil, who is in his 80’s, found the Weequahic Park Association far before the Green Dream era. He recalled joining the fight for Governor Whitman’s Open-space legislation, which cynically sets standards to deprive almost all benefits to the urban center. Among the locals in the audience, the call for the distribution of Green job growth in Newark, with an almost 40 percent unemployment rate, was heard loud and clear, with even some sparks with representatives of the Essex County building trade unions. For almost half a century, Newark has not been a fertile land for any dreams, not mentioning Green dreams.

Tomorrow, the Summit enthusiasts will keep dreaming about Newark’s future. My children will join the dreamers in NJIT. At last the dinner table, they demanded solar panels on our roof, “We can save the money for it together.” Sandy Wiggins, whose US Green Building Council provides LEED certification, strongly believes that Newark’s sustainable future lies in its leadership, “The government leads by example.” My children also have demands for their hero, the cool Mayor Booker, “Please, park a Smart Car on the parking spot created by Sharpe James.” That street next to the City Hall happens to be Green Street. “We can also save the money for his official car together,” my children promised.

Author: Ken Walker

Husband, Father, Analyst. In a glass case of emotion since 1978.

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