We’re All Connected

Max Pizarro’s pre-game analysis of last week’s State of the City address includes a great point-counter-point between State Senator (and former Booker mayoral opponent) Ron L. Rice and his son, West Ward Councilman (and Booker faithful) Ron C. Rice: Newark in gear for Booker’s election-year state of the city.

“I know the mayor is not exactly renowned for showing up at the barbershop and hanging out, jawing around with the guys,” said [Ron C.] Rice. “Fine. That’s just fine. I would rather have a mayor who’s out there shaking the trees for my city like this one is – getting us money to build Nat Turner Park, getting us grant money to increase our police force in an economic downturn and to install surveillance cameras – rather than a guy at the barber shop telling me we have no money. I would rather have a mayor landing a grant from the Gates Foundation for resources, money for crucial prisoner re-entry programs rather than a glad-hander showing up at a chicken dinner and telling me the city has no money.”

Stack-like with his cellphone, the councilman said some members of the older generation – his father’s generation – will never catch get wired with email let alone text messaging and twitter.

But, in his view, modern communication devices have turned him — and the mayor — into better and more keyed in elected officials.

“My dad, when he was a councilman, relied on letters and phone calls to deliver constituent services,” said Rice. “Now I take complaints off my website, BlackBerry, cellphone, three facebook pages, twitter, etc. People tweet me. Constituents. I do this 24-7. I don’t have another job, like my dad did. Because of the accessibility, I have three to five times the number of complaints than my dad had when he was the West Ward councilman.

“Everyone my age or younger has no problem with Cory tweeting,” added the councilman.

The relentless narrative out there that Booker has mostly shuttered Newark while hitting New York and L.A. high society doesn’t comport with reality, Rice insisted, even as his father groused, “Most of my constituents don’t tweek and do computers.”

The definition of “availability” is shifting as more of our relationships are increasingly developed online. Let’s agree that — whether because he is on the speech circuit, trying to lobby for grants from philanthropists, or meeting with tech entrepreneurs — Booker travels a fair deal more than any former Newark mayor. It’s always been an undercurrent of this administration that a globally-connected Newark is a stronger Newark, precisely because we can leverage resources that aren’t available within the confines of the city, county or state geography.

(I think there’s also an argument to be made that because Newark’s travel options make it a global city, so the Mayor’s travel itself could be a good thing for the city’s image, in a medium-as-message kind of way.)

Doesn’t it make sense, then, that we’re starting to see our globally-connected, local politicians start to use technology to communicate with constituents here in the city? Acknowledging that technology, for all its benefits, can also be alienating: is this generation of 24×7 connected politicians more or less “available” to its constituents?

Sure, you can make the argument that high illiteracy and poverty rates in the city (which this 2006 Earth Day Network survey puts at 51% (!) and 28%, respectively) prevent a large constituency from participating in this new style of availability. But Rice Sr. isn’t raising the digital divide to claim that Booker and the council are out of touch with their electorate — that would actually be a compelling criticism. Instead, he’s using it as a sort of political shorthand to paint his former opponent as elitist and technocratic.

It’s no small irony that as Facebook, Twitter and Myspace continue to glom millions more registered users that the senator’s words might later paint him as the out-of-touch career politician. It wouldn’t be the first time that the senator failed to grasp a fundamental shift in his electorate, as his refrain during his 2006 mayoral bid that Booker wasn’t “black enough” revealed he had missed an important change in the perception of race in the city and our larger national culture.

Taking Back Our Streets: Crime Reduction in Newark

Newark’s longstanding narrative of progress has had many names (anyone remember the “Renaissance City?”), but a singular, pernicious problem: how can any administration claim progress in the city when the crime problem has showed unsteady improvement?
Newark Police Director Garry McCarthy joins me to discuss how the city is approaching the crime problem and his expectations for the future. More after the jump.

Newark’s longstanding narrative of progress has had many names (anyone remember the “Renaissance City?”), but a singular, pernicious problem: how can any administration claim progress in the city when the crime problem has showed unsteady improvement?
Newark Police Director Garry McCarthy joins me to discuss how the city is approaching the crime problem and his expectations for the future.  More after the jump.

[audio://dailynewarker.com/files/2010/01/TDN Podcast – McCarthy.mp3]

When the Booker administration arrived in City Hall, they inherited a city with a rising murder rate and a reputation for lawlessness.  In his inauguration speech in 2006, the Mayor promised to add hundreds of officers to the street and implement zero-tolerance policing:

His focus landed squarely on crime. Citing the city’s rising murder rate, and naming victims who died young, he said, ‘‘We have work to do in America when any child is killed.’‘

Specifically, Mr. Booker said his administration would immediately implement zero-tolerance policing. Reiterating his campaign promise to add hundreds of officers to the streets, he said, ‘‘I will enforce all laws, from traffic laws, with people speeding down our suburban streets, to littering laws.’‘

Much of the mayor’s success in his first term hinges on crime reduction, particularly after the tragic murder of three college-bound Newarkers in 2007, which made national headlines and devastated the city.

Since taking the civilian post in 2006, Mr. McCarthy has made strategic changes to the Newark Police Department to focus resources on the city’s most difficult issues.  The Star Ledger recently reported the 2009 results by highlighting an increase in homicides, though every major crime category — including shootings — was substantially down for the year.

The director joined me on the podcast to discuss how these numbers square — how can you have more murders with fewer shootings? — and how the NPD is sustaining its focus going into 2010 in order to see further crime reduction.

Habeas Lounge: Democracy Out Loud in Newark

Linda Pollack is a public artist preparing for a community dialogue project that will open in Newark October 23. The HABEAS LOUNGE is a space for civic dialogue, where she curates a series of public discussions and other exchanges.

In the podcast, we discuss how the lounge came into existence, the goals for the project, and where you can find out more information.


The HABEAS LOUNGE series are developed to be timely and relevant to the communities where they are based. The idea is to break away from the typical dynamics of the panel discussion and instead create a more fluid and inclusive atmosphere where candid exchange can occur. The series has since been featured in downtown Los Angeles, Manhattan and, most recently, Wroclaw Poland for the 20th anniversary of Eastern Europe’s political changes of 1989.

On October 23, HABEAS LOUNGE will be displayed in the street level window of Rupert Ravens Contemporary Art Gallery, at 85 Market Street in Newark. The fomer “Furniture King” will once again be infused with its original mandate to display furniture. The LOUNGE will first serve as a still life in the display window, then in mid November we will activate it by hosting public discussions that address city life issues specific to Newark – transportation, infrastructure, development, housing, renewal, safety, the river, health services, etc.

For more information, check out their website: rupertravens.net.

Newark Feels the Pinch

From the Mayor’s office today. Anyone whose company has had to implement pay cuts, layoffs and other firm cost-cutting measures recently can relate to this news.


Non-uniformed City workers will take one-day furloughs each month starting July; Employees making $100,000 will receive 2 percent pay cuts as well as furloughs

Newark, NJ – March 31, 2009 – Mayor Cory A. Booker, Acting Business Administrator Michelle Thomas, and members of the Newark Municipal Council announced in a City Hall press conference this morning that the City of Newark would impose mandatory one-day-a-month furloughs for all non-uniformed employees, beginning in July, and continuing through December 2010, as well as two-percent pay cuts for all unrepresented managers and directors earning more than $100,000 a year.

The measures were in line with similar furloughs announced last week for state employees by Governor Jon Corzine. The municipal measure is anticipated to affect approximately 2,500 employees and save the City about $6 million, as it works to find ways to close by 2012 the $180 million budget deficit that was inherited by the administration upon taking office in 2006. The proposed furloughs must be approved by the state Civil Service Commission.

“In 2006, we took over a city in financial crisis. We have made significant steps to address our financial future and decided that we would not balance the budget on the backs of our residents,” Mayor Booker said. “We have taken drastic and innovative measures toward closing our structural budget deficit of $180 million. The City must work off its dependence on non-recurring payments and state aid in order to balance its budgets within the next three years. We can no longer rely on gimmicks. We must make difficult decisions now, but 2012 will be the year of liberation.”

The planned furloughs will begin in July, and all non-uniformed City agencies will shut down for one day a month every month through December 2010. All non-uniformed municipal workers will be unpaid for that day. The Mayor will propose that the days be connected to municipal holidays. The 18 furlough days amount to an approximate 5 percent salary cut for all employees. Police officers and firefighters are exempt from the furloughs and salary reductions.

Some 61 municipal employees, including Mayor Booker, are impacted by the 2 percent pay cut, which comes on top of the furloughs. He and his senior staff face a total 7 percent salary reduction. The Mayor noted that since taking office, neither he nor any senior manager has received a pay raise or cost-of-living increase. He voluntarily reduced his salary by 8 percent early in his administration. The 2 percent reductions do not affect uniformed personnel, i.e., fire and police.

The City will ensure that there are no dramatic reductions in municipal services during furlough periods.

The Mayor noted that the City was using the money saved wisely, and major projects that will improve the quality of life in Newark are continuing, including the renovations of City parks and the opening of two new police precincts.

“My number one priority upon taking office was public safety. While we have seen dramatic reductions in violent crime, that priority has not changed. We are not laying off police officers or permanent workers, we intend to put a new class of police recruits through the academy this year and to continue our summer youth employment programs. We are using these furloughs to maintain city services and city functions,” Mayor Booker said.

The City is anticipating $436 million in revenues to fund a 2009 municipal budget of $659 million, Mayor Booker said. Filling the budget gap will require additional cost-cutting measures, he said.

The Mayor was joined at the conference by Council President Mildred Crump, Council Vice President Luis Quintana, and Council Members Oscar James, Carlos Gonzalez, Donald Payne, Jr., and Anibal Ramos, Jr.

The Mayor also noted that the City must end its dependence on non-recurring payments, like state aid funds, and pointed out that in 2011, Newark will receive the last $40 million payment from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in the settlement for the airport and seaport land reached under the Sharpe James administration. This, he said, added to the global economic crisis, is placing an increased burden on municipal resources.

Mayor Booker also pointed out that while stern measures are needed to address the present crisis, Newark has taken great strides to address a budget shortfall that has existed for years. The City’s dependence on state payments has dropped from $115 million to $40 million, and a balanced budget is in reach within three years.

Mayor Booker’s administration has been “thinking outside of the box.” “We created a Newark Parking Authority, which is extremely efficient. Other ideas on the table include creating an independent authority for our water assets, so we can sell water on the open market to other communities. Finally, I will reach out to other Mayors in Essex County to hold a summit to find ways to create savings,” the Mayor said.

He also pointed out that while other cities and municipalities around the country are experiencing economic contraction and downturns, Newark continues to develop. “We are seeing more businesses opening each day in Newark, or moving here, new warehouses opening, a new hotel, and we are fighting to bring a professional basketball franchise here. These will bring us jobs, revenue, and visitors, which will help to grow our tax base. We will be able to enjoy the collective benefit that comes from three years of sacrifice.”

This is the first time the City of Newark has ordered furloughs for its employees.

Paradise Lost: Newark Poetry

All hell broke loose.
John Milton, Paradise Lost

In June 1667, Puritans under Robert Treat signed the first city charter for the religiously exclusive Newark governance. A month later, these white men struck a good deal with the Lenape Indians for the paradisiacal land from the Passaic River to the Watchung Mountains. That was the year when the immortal Milton first published his Paradise Lost.

In November 1915, Newark at its pinnacle organized the Newark Poetry Competition as a part of the city’s 250th anniversary celebration. In the official publication, The Newarker, the organizers wrote:

Newark is not all industries, smoke, rush and din. It is a great center of production and in its special field of work is alert and progressive. But it has also beautiful homes, fine parks, admirable schools, and a useful library. Its thousands of shade trees are the envy of many cities. The cleanliness of its highways surprises even the Newarker himself. It has a good government, churches in plenty and many worthy clubs and societies. Art and science even are not altogether neglected here… Newark, with 400,000 people… (is) known to all the world as a producer of honest goods.

Clement Wood, a graduate of Yale Law School, won the first prize with his poem, The Smithy of God.

Clang, and clang, and clang, and clang,
Till a hundred thousand tired feet
Drag-drag-drag down the evening street,
And gleaming the myriad street-lights hang;
The far night-noise dwindle and hush,
The city quiets its homing rush;
The stars blow forth with silent sweep,
As Hammer and hammered drowse asleep…
Softy I sing to heaven again,
I am Newark, forger of men,
Forger of men, forger of men.

Perhaps even with a nightingale’s singing, Wood’s nocturne might not be able to send 400,000 working men and women with blue eyes and children with above-average intelligence to their sweet American dreams every night. However, Newark indeed was a first-class city of manufacture and technological inventions. Poet Sayers Coe, a native Newarker and a graduate of Princeton, could even verify the most familiar sound of his time in his The Voice of the City:

Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang!
Hark to the music that the hammers beat!
List to the tramp of the marching feet!
See, where the forges redly glow!
This is the song that my children know –
Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang!
Hear me, cities of men….

Before becoming an editor of Puck Magazine, Berton Braley labored with his hands, passing coal on the Great Lakes, digging ditches, guarding prisons and an insane asylum, farming and mining. With Walt Whitman’s spirit, he testified, “The needs and wants of the world have spurred her, Newark – city that builds our dreams.” However, amazed by Newark’s vulgar Pollyannaish fever, the literature wizard Ezra Pound sent his advice from London, “If each Italian city is herself, Each with a form, light, character… Can you, Newark, be thus, setting a fashion, But little known in our land?”

On May 31, 1916, 40,000 citizens celebrated the city’s birth in a beautiful amphitheatre in Weequahic Park. On a natural stage separated from the crowds by a lagoon 300 feet long and 163 fee wide, 4,000 performers unfolded the city’s history in four movements, including Lenape “peace legend,” Robert Treat (of course), land rioters of 1746, and rebels against British tyranny in a 1776 town meeting. A live band of 92 pieces performed the pageant music composed by Henry Hadley for the event.

Was life so great then? Would the celebration last? Our poet Richard Cammarieri in his 1999 poem, Taking Sides, asked:

Celebrate what?
Ignorance deceit
Conquest slavery death
that is what you are about
and I know – we know –
what you are about.

In the next 50 years, through two World Wars, the Prohibitionist attack, the Great Depression, and Urban Renewal, two waves of Southern African-American migrant workers moved in with poverty and tens of thousands of whites moved out with wealth. In front of the eyes of a single generation, the once powerful city swiftly experienced a stunning metamorphosis, which has, in turn, generated a very different poetry. In 1967, a Newark court convicted Amiri Baraka with his poem, “We must take our own world, man, our own world, and we cannot do this unless the white man is dead. Let’s get together and kill him my man… Let’s make a world we want black children to grow and learn in.” In his Black People!, the “paradise-lost” scene was depicted:

What about that bad short you saw last week on Frelinhuysen, or those stoves and refrigerators, record players in Sears, Bamberger’s, Klein’s, Hahnes’, Chase, and smaller joosh enterprises? What about the bad jewelry, on Washington Street, and those couple of shops on Springfield? You know how to get it, you can get it, no money down, no money never, money don’t grow on trees no way, only whitey’s got it, makes it with a machine, to control you, you cant steal nothing from a white man.

Now, even those stores, Sears, Macy’s, Klein’s, Hahnes’ and whatever enterprises have long gone and might never come back. The “paradise” has nothing, but Baraka’s and my anger. A young poet Candy Killion cries in her Urban Renewal, Newark (2005):

They stand at sweet attention, now
Condos tight and scrubbed,
Manicured and fertilized
On the hot-tarred rise where there was never grass,
Not when we know it.

Over there, see the swing set?
through decades of exhaust from the 21 bus,
back, further still, see the hill then:
houses burning, National Guard boys…
white and black and yellow and red
barely nineteen, some of them
crawling sweaty and confused in the gutters,
rifle muzzles erect through tinted windows,
waving at them into dreams of rice paddies

Molotov air, broken glass and screams are there still
Under the flowerbeds, under the new-set sod
Just as we knew it.

We knew it? Do we know that, once lost, the paradise will never come back? Maybe the crazy Ezra Pound, who died in an asylum, was right after all: “Can you, Newark, be thus, setting a fashion, But little known in our land?” We don’t really need a paradise, do we?

Newark’s “Autopia”

In a 1957 lecture, the city thinker Lewis Munford observed, “…instead of planning motor cars and motor ways to fit our life, we are rapidly planning our life to fit the motor car… that we have no life that is worth living.” Arguably, Munford has summarized our 100-year collective experience in Newark and far beyond.
In the afternoon of August 20, 1834, Newarkers cheered their first glimpse of rapid transit: a team of powerful horses made an epochal trip, pulling a car (the “Washington”) on tracks from a Broad Street tavern to Jersey City. On December 2, 1835, the first steam locomotive (“Newark”) started to replace horses on the line. In the winter of 1871, the locally built Baxter Steam Car operated on the Bloomfield line going 18 miles an hour. In 1888, a spectacle of cable cars had a short life on Springfield Avenue. Newark’s first electrical trolley car began operation on October 4, 1890, and swiftly took over the city’s streets.

In 1893, America’s first gas-engine automobile was built in Springfield, Massachusetts. On February 21, 1908, the first Newark Auto Show opened at Essex Troop Armory on Roseville Avenue, featuring moving pictures of the thrilling Vanderbilt Cup race. Thousands of visitors admired over 30 brands of magic machines, including Maxwell, Crawford, Jackson, Peerless, Ford, Fiat, Oldsmobile, and Regal. The subsequent shows even gained national significance, attended by President Tufts, and focused not only on sales, but also the politics of auto legislation and road construction. Motor cars aggressively but arrogantly charged into Newark’s maelstrom of dirty horse wagons, trotting carriages famously made locally, darting bicycles, and hyper streetcars.

The city builders of the “Progressive Era” believed that automobiles provided the solution to urban traffic problems. Newark’s Harland Bartholomew said in 1913, “The logical development and growth of a modern city depends almost exclusively upon its transportation facilities.” Once Newark’s streets were cleared of slow vehicles, they would be dedicated to the smooth flow of motorized traffic.

The modern “Autopia,” however, quickly turned into a bloody nightmare, with hundreds of deaths under wheels annually. Local motoring organizations, supported by the automobile industry, directed public attention to trouble makers – “jaywalkers.” They even heavily advertised against popular images of spoiled “joy-riders” and demanded the press to cease attacks on innocent motorists. With the auto lobby, State Motor Vehicle Commissioner Magee said in a 1939 Newark City Hall meeting:

Approximately 3,000 pedestrians have been killed and more than 35,000 injured in the last five years…. Careless action of pedestrians, the almost absolute defiance of many stubborn-minded individuals of their probable chances for injury, is an outstanding reason for these casualties.”

As some people observed, even Ralph Nader’s auto safety reform in the 1960’s did nothing for those lives outside the car. Starting from 1923, Newark adopted strict laws against jaywalkers. Through endless efforts of widening streets, particularly after Essex County took over major corridors (e.g., Springfield, Bloomfield, Central Avenues) as county roads, many sidewalks were further narrowed or even eliminated. Many ordinances were adopted against traffic problems, such as uniform traffic control (1915), street parking bans (1921), and one-way streets (1940). In the 1920’s, Police Director Brennan (the father of our beloved U.S. Superior Court Justice) was the most-hated figure in town for his traffic law enforcement.

The great German historian Oswald Spengler, who chronicled the decline of the West, observed as early as 1932, “In great cities the motor-car has by its numbers destroyed its own value, and one gets on quicker on foot.” Twenty years later, however, the magic machine reached its new pinnacle in American, with an average of three persons owning a car, compared with one out of every 20 Britons owning a car. Optimistic city planners are divided into two camps, like today. Some are confident that cities can build their way out of their decline by making them more auto-friendly, using further regulatory tools, providing plentiful and convenient parking, and building express highways into the city center. (Sound familiar, Newark?) The other school was represented by Victor Gruen, a refugee from Vienna who hated cars and loved old cities. He proposed a wide ring road outside the city center, with an archipelago of commuter parking, an underground freight-delivering network, and an efficient bus system to reduce traffic pressure. His new American downtown would be a car-free mall attracting diverse interests, such as churches, offices, and educational institutions.

In the late 1950’s, Newark commissioned Gruen for a comprehensive study on its downtown and for the design of Gateway One. From a Newark Evening News report, one can see that Gruen did a very decent job educating the public, “For a long time he (pedestrian) was the forgotten man in the soaring dreams of the City Beautiful. The plan often sounded as though tomorrow’s town was expected to have no people, only skyscrapers and unbroken streams of swift traffic.”

With the power of automobiles and anti-urban national policies, however, Gruen was (and still is) too remote to Newark’s business people, politicians, and most planners. Leslie Blau, one of the most influential businessmen in town, predicted in 1957, “The construction of the east-west freeway (Rt. 280), together with additional garages and adjusted downtown taxes, will wipe out most of the store vacancies, greatly improve existing business… bring more business. People want to drive to the shopping area.” At the time, Downtown Newark still had five department stores: Bamberger’s, Hahne’s, Chase, S. Klein, and Ohrbach’s. Pasqual Guerrieri, the president of Kresge/Chase and Chairman of the Newark Parking Authority, predicted with the Military Park underground parking, “Millions of dollars will be spent here. They will go into payroll, supplies, and into the general stream of the economy.” Bamberger President David Yunich said that Newark “is looking forward to its fair share in the space age from visiting consumer and capital expenditures.”

The auto-oriented prosperity, or “revitalization” in today’s term enthusiastically used by politicians, has never really happened. While Newarkers like to boast of its great “transportation advantages,” in the past 100 years, highways and automobiles actually drained the urban center in favor of peripheral areas, where driving and parking were less arduous. Before World War II, Le Corbusier, the great creator of the “Radiant City,” enjoyed driving with his lover in her powerful Ford V8 towards Newark. He noted, “…the ‘sky-way,’ so-called for the way its enormous length rises high above the industrial districts, the coastal bays, the railroad lines….A roadway without art, for no thoughts of that was taken, but a prodigious tool.” He did not know that as early as 1926, Newark’s chief engineer James Costello had to launch a “showdown” with the State Highway Commission against the design and the intention of this “prodigious tool,” the Pulaski Skyway, which had no point of access to the city of Newark.

From the beginning, highway construction aimed for sprawl and decentralization. For instance, for highway funding in 1930, Ocean County got 410 percent of its tax dollars; Sussex and Hunterdon 324 percent and 333 percent, respectively, while Essex got only 37 percent. Federal and state legislation further deprived Newark’s funding for road construction. In the 1930’s, under the County Engineer Stickel, Essex County took over ten “county roads” beyond High Street (MLK Blvd.) to better serve suburban needs.

Under the economic boom with massive highway construction after World War II, a large number of “Boomtowns” mushroomed in New Jersey. For instance, by 1950, New Providence (original Turkey Town), a country hamlet, had expanded threefold in 20 years, becoming the home of engineers, research scientists, technicians, and sales personnel, in general young people with families and “definite” ideas about local affairs. Following Bell Labs that settled in New Providence, large and small corporations located along highways, such as Ciba Pharmaceuticals in Summit and Standard Oil in Linden. Even the native institution, the Newark Academy, followed young families to pastoral Livingston. As Frank Lloyd Wright prescribed for his “Broadacre City,” every family lives in an individual house at the equivalent of the lowest suburban densities, linked by universal car ownership and fast roads.

As a Chinese proverb said, “No banquet will be endless.” The good life in Bo-bo land, La-la land, or wonderland is finally coming to an end under economic and environmental constraints. We even get an “urban president” in the White House, as we have all hoped for. More and more suburban towns have started serious efforts to build more dense and pedestrian-friendly centers, particularly along mass transit lines. That has not happened in Newark! In the City Council meeting a week ago, the Chancellor of our urban university addressed his ambition to grow the school by constructing 3,500 new parking spaces on the city’s best land for transit-oriented community development, indeed the largest parking development in the history of the city and the state. Although the paradigm of Newark’s “autopia” did not work for its five department stores, it seems to still have the support of our leaders and planners, calling it “urban revitalization.”

My grandchildren will see what Newark will look like in 2025. Since this is a discussion of the city, Jane Jacobs will have the last word: “What if we fail to stop the erosion of cities by automobiles? What if we are prevented from catalyzing workable and vital cities because the practical steps needed to do so are in conflict with the practical steps demanded by erosion?…. In that case we Americans will hardly need to ponder a mystery that has troubled men for millennia: What is the purpose of life? For us the answer will be clear, established and for all practical purpose indisputable: The purpose of life is to produce and consume automobiles.”

(See also Newark’s Lethal Traffic and The Iron Cage: A Very Brief History of Parking in Newark, both posted at this site.)

Why Is Newark Not Baltimore?

There are times when a short trip to exciting New York City streets is not enough to ease the frustration from Newark’s troubles. On Christmas Day, 1994, we woke up only to find our car was among seven within two blocks, stripped by smashed windows. On the next day, we booked a bed-and-breakfast room on Ann Street of Baltimore’s thriving Fells Point. The four-term mayor Schaefer’s urban revival projects had started to change Baltimore’s downtown decay. At the time, Governor Schaefer was pushing a $500 million light rail line through the heart of the once “Cinderella City.” Encouraging!
On the morning before returning home, we sat at the hostess’ kitchen table for an elaborate breakfast with Andy, the hospitable husband. After learning our destination, he could not help giggling. “What is it, Andy?” “When I drove through the fallow city blocks, wind blew waste paper against my windshield. I am sorry. Newark is such a dirty city.” We headed back immediately after, without a single word in two hours.

Earlier this year, after two years into the Booker Administration and much talk of Downtown Revitalization, we had another visit to Baltimore, by now a completely different place. Its urban redevelopment strategy has worked impressively. As a Fortune magazine article envisioned 30 years ago, “Their [public and private sector] strategy has been to convert the heart of the city into a culturally rich, architecturally exciting magnet where both affluent and middle-class families will choose to work, shop, and live.” A closer look at the city’s success points to a single word—“Leadership.”

William Donald Schaefer was born in Baltimore in 1921 to a modest Lutheran family of German descent. After finishing his early education in public schools and Baltimore City College, he went to England not to attend Oxford, but to serve with distinction in the Army during World War II. With the GI bill, he received his law degree from the University of Baltimore and spent 19 years on the city council, tackling the city’s planning and housing issues. The Baltimore native son was elected mayor in 1971, 1975, 1979, and 1983 by over 85 percent of the votes in a city with an African-American majority. In 1986 and 1990, he was elected the governor of Maryland with an overwhelming majority. Over his almost 60 year career of public services, the driven and focused visionary had his heart only in his city.

The legendary mayor was known for his attention to detail, taking note of problems of every project large and small, such as the seal pool at the National Aquarium and street violations like strewn garbage as he rode around. “Fix it right now!” Aiming to redevelop the downtown and the waterfront as fast as possible, he devised strategies to overcome the slow-moving bureaucratic city machine and to win the confidence of ordinary citizens and corporate investors. Under his leadership, redevelopment efforts were directed and implemented by 24 flexible and efficient quasi-public development corporations, which could pay higher salaries with less politicized regulations. As a city researcher observed, Schaefer encouraged “apolitical means for improving the city’s development potential by infusing speed, flexibility, and technical expertise into the policy-making process.”

The Ann Street Bed-and-Breakfast opened during the transformation of the Inner Harbor. Those rat-infested piers, rundown structures, and eclectic parking lots were scenes familiar to Downtown Newark residents. The blighted mess smelled “like a million polecats,” as H.L. Mencken described. Under Schaefer’s leadership, the city acquired over 400 structures to provide land for redevelopment. A few blocks away from Ann Street, the Harborplace, a delightful and warm place of people, includes two translucent pavilions of diverse shops and restaurants. Its success assured Schaefer’s audacious dream of making Baltimore a national tourist destination, attracting 18 million visitors the first year, earning $42 million, and creating 2,300 jobs. During the year of our first visit, the nearby aquarium added another 18 million visitors. By 1998, visitors spent $847 million annually, contributing $81 million in tax revenues, and covering a payroll of $266 million. Schaefer’s legacy also includes the construction of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the reduction of Chesapeake Bay pollution, and higher standards for public schools.

A “public entrepreneur,” Schaefer lives most of his life in humble row houses in the city, with no interest in material things except fast food and political-convention freebies. The no-nonsense pal held public positions over half a century, not for his political ambition, but for his intrinsic motivation of getting things done for his beloved city. Like any strong leader, he never shied away from controversy. His successor, the first African-American Mayor Kurt Schmoke, observed, “If you revisited Baltimore today after a 20-year absence, you would find us much prettier and much poorer.” The national organization “Good Job First” complained about using millions of Urban Development Action Grants (UDAG) on Inner Harbor projects. With our own Newark experience, I am not convinced by his detractors’ accusations. He served during the worst urban decline, the fastest manufacturing depletion, and the deepest racial and economic segregation in this country’s history. When Baltimore poured UDAG money into its tourist and entertainment infrastructures, Newark was busy building parking garages and industrial parks with the same money. To this day, these facilities are still strangely under the total control of our infamous Al Faiella, with no contribution to the city and its poor people, but to his own $200,000 plus salary and “charitable” choices.

A few months ago, Schaefer sold his row house in Fells Point for $225,000. However, the 87-year-old man only moved to a sixth-floor apartment at a retirement community, with his friends and a view of the Baltimore skyline shaped by none other but himself. Having been a Newark resident for 12 years and our mayor for 30 months, Cory Booker has yet put his money down on Newark soil for a permanent home. In an August master plan hearing, NJPAC’s CEO Larry Goldman commented on Newark’s slow motion redevelopment, “There is no value-free planning. We are expecting the administration’s strong leadership to move the city forward.” Absolutely, leadership!

Book Review: Newark: A History of Race, Rights, and Riots in America

Newark: A History of Race, Rights, and RiotsKevin Mumford
NYU Press, 2007

In 1961 an integrated group of Newark CORE supporters gathered in Military Park to send off a continent of Freedom Riders who were sacrificing their time, money, and physical safety for civil rights. The destination was . . . . Chattanooga . . . Tennessee.

The Newark Freedom Riders were doing something brave and important, yet one has to wonder why the Newarkers were embarking on a 1,600 mile odyssey against racism when there was racism, no less intense or damaging, right in their very city. Robert Curvin, leader of Essex County CORE, wondered the exact same thing. Over the next few years Curvin would attempt, despite criticism from CORE’s national leadership, to focus the energy and money of Newark’s civil rights supporters on Newark.

Read the full review after the jump.

Continue reading “Book Review: Newark: A History of Race, Rights, and Riots in America”

Drive-Through College and Its Urban Mission

Rutgers Newark is celebrating its centennial this year, with its proud mission of serving an underprivileged urban population. It began in October 1908, when Richard Currier started New Jersey Law School in the Prudential Insurance building. He believed that education is “a most potent factor in the progress of human development towards the ideal in the individual and the state.” Then, in those University of Newark years, buses and trolleys carried mostly working class and new immigrant students to their classes. Among the commuting professors, the world renowned Frankfurt philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote his famous jazz essays, not without the Newark influence. In 1947, Rutgers University absorbed the struggling University of Newark to extend its influence, as well as to keep Eastern European Jewish and minority students out of the its New Brunswick campus. Since the rapid suburbanization in the 1950’s, the school population has further changed to create the most racially diverse, but the most commuting, student body in the country.
To turn the shallow commuter experience into an intellectually and socially more stimulating education, Chancellor Steve Diner, since the beginning of his tenure in 2002, has declared the university’s transformative effort for an urban residential college. However, a cultural revolution, that is, demands some deeply rooted structural changes. Despite a new 650-bed dormitory building, the “drive-through” college is still mostly quiet for at least three days a week, far from a 24-7 culture. Obviously, students’ financial constraint is not solely to be blamed for the commuter culture. Most college students have to pay for their own room and board some where anyway, in addition to expensive automobile commuting costs. A simple survey of where the university’s leaders live might provide some insight. Among a total of 36 top administrators, with titles of chancellor, vice chancellors, deans, and associate and assistant deans (from Nursing, Criminal Justice, Law, Public Administration, Graduate School), only one new vice chancellor might have a permanent Newark address. The rest are busy driving in and out of Newark, in some cases, for over 80 miles one-way. Campus parking has been a headache to almost all universities. However, Rutgers Newark might be among a very few in the nation where the planning priority of creating parking has been through destroying its own historic neighborhood. Students readily accept the inferior drive-through experience created by the very university leaders and professors who have paid only lip-service to a residential college and urban revitalization.

Interestingly, in his own dissertation three decades ago, Dr. Diner studied an urban residential college with its cosmopolitan faculty devoted to the home city’s progressive future. University of Chicago, Dr, Diner’s alma mater, has a proud tradition of an urban residential community. President William Harper and President Robert Hutchins dedicated many years of their lives living on the sometimes not-so-peaceful campus and fighting for the university and its place in the city and the world. Its professors are known for their loyalty toward their intellectual home, their students, and their city. I remembered the occasion of admiring Professor Edward Shils’ huge home library near the campus. The old scholar cut a distinctive figure on the streets of Hyde Park with his walking stick, his suit jacket, and hat. I am sure that Dr. Diner’s own experience in Chicago must have influenced his determination for a residential culture in Newark.

Under the leadership of Judith Rodin, within ten years, the University of Pennsylvania changed its campus, as well as the surrounding crime-ridden urban environment. Dr. Rodin not only lived on campus as the president, but also grew up in the neighborhood with her life-long affection toward the area. Buildings were developed, or renovated, to turn outward to the streets and the city, leading to collaboration with the community revitalization in University City and West Philadelphia. The university even established the Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander University of Pennsylvania Partnership School and other partnership schools for children of local residents and university staff. Rodin convinced the university community that a viable residential college cannot survive without a residential faculty in a viable neighborhood and its city.

One might point out that the two elite universities have a different student population and a far superior financial strength, which a poor urban college lacks. Rutgers Newark’s own history, however, argues differently. From 1963 to 1974, Malcolm Talbott, Rutgers’ Vice President in charge of the Newark Campus, was in the forefront of the city’s revitalization and the modern campus’ creation. During his long distinguished service to the university, he always lived in Newark. Many active participants of the black student protest movement in 1969 vividly remember their insightful discussions in Mr. Talbott’s home on Mt. Prospect Avenue. Some of them, such as Vicki Donaldson, the spokesperson for the Black Organization of Students, maintained their friendship with Talbot to the last moment of his life, long after his ouster by New Brunswick for his out-spoken promotion of Newark’s interests. Many of Talbott’s colleagues lived around the campus, forming an intellectual home for many underprivileged students.

When becoming the President of NJIT in 2002, Dr. Robert Altenkirch was told to live away from the battled city. Soon, he realized that “the easy thing to do would have been to sit back in Maplewood,” knowing nothing about the lay of the land, focusing only on the campus, and ignoring the neighborhood. He said, “I have never pursued the easy over the right.” He happily moved to Newark and took responsibility as the chair of the Downtown Core Development, which includes the Prudential Arena. Following UPenn’s model, but with very limited recourses, NJIT developed a creative vision for the community around the campus and a seamless transition between “town and gown.” Starting his day on campus at 6:30 every morning, often including Saturdays, Dr. Altenkirch knows not only all university staff, but also many students by their first names and their future career pursuits. The sole purpose of the NJIT Gateway Project is to enhance the students’ residential life through creating viable mixed-use streets for the community and the city. Along the tradition of John Cotton Dana and Malcolm Talbott, Dr. Altenkirch has argued forcefully that only a hometown university, not a satellite drive-through campus, can be the engine and pillar of our city. As simple as that!

Who Killed Westinghouse, and Me?

On March 12, 1914, George Westinghouse, whose 361 patents rivaled Thomas Edison’s creativity, died in his chair while still working in a New York City apartment. However, in this city, Westinghouse, as a powerful industrial symbol and, later, a sad building remnant on Orange Street, lived on until April 2008. In the demolition dust, I also felt suffering from a death of some sort after living in the shadow of Westinghouse (the building) and dreaming about the city’s renaissance for the past 18 years. Westinghouse and I did not expect a proper closure until Matt Gosser came along with his Project of Westinghouse.
Matt and I formally met in the twilight last spring inside the Westinghouse building, where my children and I were searching for the last memorabilia—a metal sign, a piece of stone, or a lamp shade. An odd silhouette alarmed us until it turned into a tall man shouldering an old sink. That was Matt, searching for the same memories before heavy demolition machines wiped out the whole building.

We soon came to know his pick-up truck parked outside the chain link fence every evening and weekends, as well as some of his artist friends, with cameras and easels. We all shared the same entrance, a hole in the fence that led to a broken staircase. Matt has found Newark to teach architecture (at NJIT) and to make his art from the endless supply of old building artifacts since coming here from Ohio 15 years ago. Although I thought that Matt and I shared the aesthetics of Heraclitus, who believed that “the most beautiful world is like a heap of rubble, tossed down in confusion,” I often watched him and his Hippie artist friends with suspicion and worry. Maybe they would just make some tasteless “postmodern” spectacle from the death of Westinghouse.

On Saturday, October 11, Matt’s Westinghouse Project unveiled its mystical screen in the Gallery of NJIT School of Architecture, with his fellow artists, live music, champagne, and cheap food, like any other bourgeoisie art opening. After spotting some faces of those who I believed to be responsible for the building’s destruction, I left with disappointment in a sardonic carcass viewing. That night, I could not sleep, “It can’t be, Matt!”

On Monday, I took my son back to the gallery to have another look. Matt opened the door before rushing to his class. No music, no drink, no crowd, just the two of us. Outside the window, Newark’s downtown was under the smooth autumn light, with the beautiful New York City skyline on the distant horizon. Inside, 47 artists’ voices were competing with the Westinghouse stories in silence. I could not hold back my tears when I saw Phillip Buehier’s “In Lieu of Flowers.” A waterfall-like sculpture of columns of newsprint gracefully flows through the staircase from the third floor all the way to the basement, with obituaries of those who worked in the Westinghouse building for 20, 30, or even 40 years.

Catherine Gutowski, 84, was honored for not missing a single day of work, or being late in 35 years. Edward Braunagan Jr., 92, was a group leader of the meter division for 43 years, and turned in 1,764 suggestions (843 accepted) in a 12-year period. Anne Nicodemus, 86, received only an orange and three hard candies for Christmas in her orphanage and later treated the Westinghouse factory as her home… Where are you Maurice Veneri, 89, the union president? Dr. Anton Lennert, 79, the scientist? Or Lillian Westcott, 93, the secretary of 45 years to the president?

My son’s favorite piece is DC Smith’s “Westinghouse AM,” made from found objects, documents, paper mache (pigeons inside the empty building), and a radio. I told NJN’s Deserre Taylor, who walked in to report the show, “It is a perfect tribute to the building and a relevant one particularly to broadcasters like you. The Westinghouse building was the home of WJZ, the nation’s oldest commercial radio station that covered the first live Baseball World Series in 1921.” (See my Feb.13, 2008 piece “City without Memory” in TDN.)

Matt Gosser’s art is loud and muscular, despite his always calm and gentle demeanor. His “Centipede,” made from a bundle of old wires, reminded me of the moment when he was cutting the piece in the dark from an electrical control panel with his portable electric saw, black smudges covering his face. His “Electro revisited,” (priced for $18,000) looks like a giant gorilla made from salvaged bolts, screws, meters, wires, wood, and plastic lids, sitting in the middle of the gallery. Or to be more accurate, it is George Westinghouse on his knees, begging for understanding and sympathy. Eleonora Luongo’s three small photos and her powerful poem echo each other:

“It stood a symbol of the city’s past,
a sign of its decay. A looming ghost
of former industry, with empty smoke-
stack, broken windows, cracks in its façade.
Led on and bought and sold and passed around,
declared unsafe and tossed aside; a used-
up hooker on the corner. That’s Enough!
It cried brick tears, and crushed four cars below.”

Chris Funkhouser playfully manipulated all 12 letters of “Westinghouse” in his flash movie, “we sting house.” I am not an artist, but a student of the city’s past and of the Westinghouse building, who has read many of the legal proceedings of the building. I know who “we” are (e.g., greedy owners, developers, lawyers, politicians, state and city officials) and how they together “sting” a healthy building to its death and my “death.” I promise to come back to tell the ugly story! That night, I fell asleep peacefully, but dreamed about Maria Mijares’ three stunningly beautiful oil paintings: “No matter how much, I have to have them to eulogize Westinghouse and my innocence.”