NEWARK, NJ – As Newark evolves, architects and planners examined how political and personal design strategies can enhance the human experience in the city during an interactive discussion Thursday at the Newark Museum of Art
NJIT and Gensler, a global design firm, hosted the “Shaping the Future of Newark: Shaping Cities for People” discussion, which focused on a variety of topics affecting New Jersey’s largest city.
Today 4.2 billion people, a little more than 50% of the world’s population, live in cities. By 2050, more than 70% of the world’s population will live in cities, according to Roger Smith, Gensler Design Director of Architecture.
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“Cities are centers of innovation, culture and economic vitality because of their energy and diversity,” said Smith. “In fact, over 80% of global GDP is generated from our cities.”
Even so, panelist David Troutt, eminent professor of law at Newark’s Rutgers Law School, noted that Newark had been experiencing an affordability crisis for many years, with the majority of Newarkers “extremely rent-laden”.
Troutt said in other cities that policy is examining post-unstable, vulnerable populations, but it needs to be a priority for Newark. He said 80% of the Newark population are renters.
“The hardest thing for policymakers and designers is to see the reciprocity of interests between the unstable and the stable, the vulnerable and the wealthy, the ‘us versus you’ (mentality) that has divided us,” Troutt said, arguing this if the If work is democratized, the city has the greatest hope of success.
Later, Daris Sollohub, associate professor at NJIT, pointed out that Newark’s gigabit connection is three times faster than outside Manhattan’s Google building. He asked how Newark residents and aspiring entrepreneurs can use the high-speed fiber optic network.
Seth Wainer, chief strategic planner for the New York and New Jersey Port Authority, asked attendees to consider the average person’s disposable income when proposing residential buildings.
He advised architects to consider investing in infrastructure that can be converted into buildings to give residents the cheapest internet speed possible. Lowering the price creates new stock routes, he said.
Allison Ladd, Acting Director of Housing and Economic Development, advocated the need for free Wi-Fi across the city. While Newark recently unveiled a free public Wi-Fi network on Ferry Street called Ironbound Wi-Fi, Ladd said the playing field needed to be leveled across the city.
“I don’t think half of the city’s residents realize what kind of fiber we really have,” said Tai Cooper, a former aid to Mayor Ras J. Baraka and now vice president of politics and communications for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. Cooper said it was crucial to stimulate residents’ curiosity to fuel demand across the city.
The panelists also discussed the city’s mobility patterns and how they can change over the course of traffic.
“You have to be aware of how people use transit and how they move around your city, that’s an important part,” said Ladd. “Some of the parking lots are being maintained because we are going to need them, others are being upgraded because we need them too. They are really in key areas of our city that are close to transit.”
“When the most valuable lots, when the greatest freedom for creative, equitable placements is in private hands, we need to reassess the role of private ownership in those parking lots,” Troutt said. “It prevents us from doing what we urgently need to do.”
Finally, the panelists switched to a discussion on climate change and its impact on Newark.
Ladd raised awareness of the city’s topography. For example, the East Ward and Ironbound are lower and can flood faster than other parts of the city.
Troutt said the role of community boards is to offer localized democracy and disseminate information for decision-making.
“So the voices of the most affected people actually enter the much larger discourse about where we place these various climate-related necessities of public life in a more equitable distribution across the landscape,” said Troutt.