September 30, 2013

On July 18, 2013, the City of Detroit, Michigan filed for chapter 9 bankruptcy.  According to USA Today, the bankruptcy filing makes Detroit the largest city in U.S. history to do so.  While several cities across the country have experienced some form of governmental assistance to reorganize financial debt, the announcement has awakened many cities, including Newark, NJ.

Like Detroit is to Michigan, Newark is New Jersey’s largest city.  There are many other similarities that Newark shares with Michigan’s largest city, yet the difference appears to come to fruition in the avenue of community development initiatives.   At the turn of the 20th century, Detroit was the hometown for automotive innovation.  Henry Ford revolutionized not only what assembly line and mass production entailed, but he turned Detroit into an economic powerhouse.  Factories were built to house assembly lines and mass production and soon expanded into commercial and office buildings like the General Motors Building and General Motors Research Laboratory.

Employment opportunities continued to expand, and employment opportunities were available for all skill levels.  Overall, this innovative economic boom of the 20th century created ripple effects of economic advancement where not only a new product was introduced, but business grew, employment remained steady, housing was available, and revised transportation infrastructure were created.  As a result of this fast-paced expansion, Detroit soon experienced loss as new factories wishing to expand ran out of space to build within the city.  Factories discovered the vast space and lower cost that the outskirts of Detroit provided and soon re-located, leaving Detroit financially depleted.  This was also accompanied by rampant trends of racism and discrimination in the workforce and housing industry, as well as political corruption.  Even with new programmatic initiatives to combat poverty and crime, Detroit had a hard time recovering.  During the 1990s, the city sought out to revive its business and downtown district. This resulted in attractions geared towards young professionals and tourists.  Even with the introduction of luxury residences in the downtown area, major sports events, and historical landmarks that are now performing arts centers, Detroit endured major debt that now requires an Emergency Manager to step in and provide bankruptcy protection.

Within this brief description of Detroit’s economic, political and social history, traces of Newark’s parallel history can be found.  During the early 19th century, Newark was home to various manufacturing companies.  Innovative entrepreneurs like Seth Boyden, produced leather and iron.  These two products brought the city nearly $9 million and served as the main hub for leather production.  Business continued expanding, as the city began constructing the Morris Canal to enhance its infrastructure.  This soon led into Newark becoming a main transportation hub for cars, shipping, and rail.

As a result of these innovative projects, Newark’s population continuously increased.  Newark continued to burgeon well into the midpoint of the 20th century, where Market and Broad Street served as a central business zone for the Greater Newark region.  Prime examples include Bamberger and Co., and Hanhe and Co.  Until today Market and Broad Street remains the city’s business hub.  Moreover, the transportation initiative increased to include multiple varieties of transportation includes Port Authority and the Newark International Airport, and at last skyline buildings were built to house office and commercial buildings.

In addition to large building projects, Newark took on large housing projects since housing had been a huge concern since the Great Depression.  The housing projects were part of an urban renewal initiative; however, many of the dwellings were subpar.  In addition, Newark experienced cases of redlining where loans and mortgages became virtually impossible to obtain, thus resulting to a decrease in resident population.  What was thought of as a transportation improvement, the construction of highways into communities outside of Newark caused displacement and community division.   Community division was accompanied by racial tensions, resulting in riots.  As a result, unemployment rate increased, housing became far more substandard and businesses moved out of what was once an economic powerhouse.

While Newark experienced similar economic and social turbulence, what makes it different from Detroit is the academic presence, which includes Rutgers University, University of Medicine and Dentistry of NJ (which is now Rutgers University), Essex County College, New Jersey Institute of Technology and Seton Hall University’s School of Law. Additionally, revitalization initiatives such as the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the Bears Stadium, the Gateway Center and Prudential Center brought both a surge into the community. In addition to that, local neighborhood development corporations like the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District and Brick City Development Corporation have incorporated strategic neighborhood collaborative initiatives that bring together various members of the Newark community to keep the financial, political and social environment diverse and up-to-date on Newark’s future.

The construction of Teachers Village, which is currently working on completeing the last of the three buildings is one example of where housing meets education and economic resurgence.  The Teachers Village is comprised of eight new buildings that shouses 3 new charter schools, a daycare facility, and a vast amount of retail space.  It will house businesses, schools, and human service organizations and educate approximately students all of whom will, hopefully, spend money in the downtown Newark’s shops and restaurants.  In this project, a key factor is economic/business development and educational opportunities, which could be a model for cities in distress, like Detroit. With projects and initiatives like the Teacher’s Village, Newark presents a great opportunity for up-and-coming entrepreneurs and small business owners to take advantage of what’s to come. In addition this project will promote community investment as people will be encourage to shop, eat, and spend money where they live.  The anticipation of other projects around the different wards will continue to help Newark be a model for cities nation wide.

As a Leadership Newark is a fellowship program focused on solution-based public policies around critical issues such as urban renewal, economic development, and crime, business and economic development will be an important policy topic we discuss during our first-ever Leadership Newark Public Policy Summit on November 2, 2013.  We anticipate a very substantive, intellectual, and empowering conversation that will lead us to continue making changes.  Your participation at the summit will add the necessary voices needed to make progress.

Stay updated on the Leadership Newark Public Policy Summit by joining our email list.  Go to and sign up.  We will continue to announce new developments on our Facebook (leadershipnewark) and Twitter (@leadershipnwk) over the coming months.


The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit by Thomas Sugrue

Revitalizing Urban Neighborhoods by Dennis Keating,  Norman Krumholz, and Phillip Star.

City Politics: The Political Economy Of Urban America by Dennis R. Judd and Todd Swanstrom

“Billions in Debt, Detroit Tumbles Into Insolvency”, New York Times July 18, 2013