Saturday, November 1, 2008

Newark and Greater New York

While you can see the West Side of Manhattan from my building at Rutgers-Newark, on some days Newark's struggles to recover from bad government, collapsed capitalism and racism make the Brick City seem very far from New York. Yet a healthy future for Newark, a visiting scholar at the Ford Foundation argues, demands that we think of Newark as part of the New York metropolitan area. And that makes sense to me.

Mark Willis, who has worked for both New York's City government and JPMorgan Chase Bank, offered these thoughts at a recent forum at Rutgers-Newark organized by the Center for New York City Affairs of Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy. The event was titled "The New Newark: Part I: Maintaining Momentum for Renewal in a Slowing Economy."

Even in the current economic crisis, the Booker administration in Newark is arguing that the lower cost of doing business in Newark, along with the city's competitive advantages, can lure business to the city. Chief among these assets is location.

Newark has extraordinary transportation links. It is home to an international airport, an international seaport, interstate highways and national and regional rail lines. Yet part of what makes those assets valuable is their proximity to the vast New York metropolitan area. Seen in this light, Newark should be nurtured to grow as part of this region--not just by attracting residents or businesses from New York City, but also by attracting new people from all around the country and the world.

Doing the economic, social and political work that will make Newark attractive takes time, Willis observed. And as dt ogilvie, founding director of the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development at Rutgers Business School-Newark and New Brunswick argued, it will be best for Newark if development strategies embrace the needs of low and moderate-income people.

Economic development to serve the vast majority of New Yorkers is an issue in Gotham as well. That said, it is hard compare Newark and New York without concluding that New York is a wealthier, healthier city. But that shouldn't lead Newarkers to despair.

It is easy to forget, though, that as recently as the early 1990s people were arguing that New York City was finished. In retrospect, that was ridiculous. The New York experience, Willis argued, shows that cities can do well and that old cities can thrive in a new economy. Here's hoping that Newark and New York thrive together in the metropolitan area.

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