The apartments at Hahne & Co. started welcoming residents in February. Forty percent of apartments in Hahne’s were set aside as affordable residences. View: corner of New & Halsey Streets. Photo: Andaiye Taylor
If you’ve been around for a while, you know that “renaissance” has been the watchword in Newark for decades. But with $2 billion dollars’ worth of development far along in planning, newly minted or rising out of the ground, signs point to the fact that something is shifting in town, for real this time.
But for whom? Exactly how inclusive Newark’s new era will be is a question some residents and other critics are asking more and more as announcements of new development and amenities accelerate.
Here at BrickCityLive.com, we see it all the time. When we post stories about what’s coming to town, some Newarkers applaud and say, “It’s about time.” But others question who new development and attractions are meant for, while pointing to fundamental aspects of city life–public safety, education, city services–that affect residents unevenly depending on their means or where in town they live.
There are questions about whether the concessions the city sometimes makes to attract development, particularly in the form of longer-term tax abatements, are worth their weight in terms of the jobs, housing opportunities, and multiplier effect they’re intended to have on the local economy. A recent report by WNYC raised critical questions about the fate of the city’s renters as redevelopment takes hold, especially given low levels of home ownership by Newarkers.
And then there’s the framing of Newark development by media. Again and again, the development spree here has inspired journalists and other Newark watchers to compare the city to Brooklyn, where “live from Bedford Stuyvesant” today carries a much different connotation than when “the livest one,” The Notorious B.I.G., spit the opening lyrics to his track “Unbelievable” back in 1995.
Back then, according to Biggie’s autobiographical track “Juicy,” neighborhood residents were calling police on him when he was “just trying to make some money to feed [his] daughter” by hustling in front of Brooklyn buildings. Nearly 20 years later, the third-floor apartment in the six-unit building on St. James Place where Biggie and his mother lived–the one he’d dubbed a “one-room shack”–was listed for $725,000.
That’s the apartment, not the building.
The Notorious B.I.G.’s Brooklyn apartment building. Apartment 3L, where he lived, sold for $825,000 in 2013. Image: Google Maps
It ultimately sold for $100,000 above its asking price–almost double its selling price a scant ten years earlier. And it wasn’t because of its famous former resident. In fact, a contemporaneous New York Daily News article profiling Biggie’s old stomping ground depicts a litany of neighbors who pointedly say they don’t know, barely know, or don’t care about the world famous Brooklyn-born-and-bred MC who put Bed-Stuy on the map for his millions of fans.
Others–longstanding residents and business owners–discussed the fact that they were being priced out of area, and were forced to move to adjacent neighborhoods just to make rent. “Call the crib/Same number, same hood/It’s all good?” Not so much.
So in the eyes of some in Newark, development is a Trojan horse, and “becoming the next Brooklyn” is shorthand not for a revival the city should aspire to, but for the type of displacement that happened in Bed-Stuy and other Brooklyn neighborhoods (or the locking out of Newarkers from enjoying new development here, in light of the fact that much of what’s currently happening in Newark entails building or reviving long-blighted buildings and lots). In this way, Brooklyn represents destructive development to some, one that would be an existential threat to many current Newarkers if it’s replicated here.
The most recent article to make the Newark-might-be-the-next-Brooklyn comparison appeared on Gothamist. (Which also, eerily, predicted that “the Vogue write-ups are around the corner” for Newark. The city got its Vogue writeup just ten days later). Perhaps that article is what Mayor Ras Baraka was reacting to when he insisted in a recent video that no, we are not the next Brooklyn.
What he is seeking, Baraka said in the video, is development that is intentional, smart, inclusive, equitable and just.
“We’re doing it very deliberately, very different,” said Baraka in the video, citing an inclusionary zoning ordinance that will require developers to include affordable pricing tiers in their projects. The mixed-use Hahne’s building, which opened for residents earlier this month and will include a Whole Foods, Barnes & Noble, restaurant and other attractions, set aside 40 percent of its residences as affordable units, available to those who earn between 40 and 60 percent of the county’s median income. (The application deadline for the residences passed in November 2016.)
Baraka also pointed to the fact that development is happening in areas that were previously abandoned. “So it’s…really not accurate to say that we are gentrifying those neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods were neglected for fifty years,” he said.
And he encouraged Newarkers to see additional attractions–restaurants, entertainment, nightlife–as for them. “I think Newark residents deserve great department stores. They deserve great restaurants…they deserve to have a nightlife,” nice and affordable places to live, and jobs that enable them to afford it all, he said.
In sum, Baraka is saying, to borrow from Solange, “It’s for us.” And in articulating that message, Baraka hopes to break the cynicism, skepticism and fear many residents have about development in Newark–to have us see it not as a force that will mow us down and push us out, but as one that will create a safer, cleaner, more prosperous and more enjoyable city that we can afford to live in.
“You can’t just be against development and not for the bettering of conditions that we’ve been living in this city, frankly, for the last five decades…We need you to be a part of the new Newark,” he said.
How do you feel about the developments that you read about here and elsewhere? Do you welcome them, consider them a threat, or fall somewhere in between? Why?
Andaiye is a Newark native, Newark resident, and the show runner at BrickCityLive.com. Andaiye holds a master's degree from Columbia Journalism School and was a fellow in the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY. She was the 2012 recipient of the Erik Lars-Nelson prize for excellence in reporting and writing. In addition to running Brick City, Andaiye is also head of content for Clover. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on Twitter @andaiye.
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