the urban prospector

Searching for Golden Opportunities in America's Cities


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Newark: The streets of Downtown

Broad Street near Military Park looking north.

Broad Street near Military Park looking north.

A major task that the city of Newark will have to undertake to improve its downtown area is to make streets more pedestrian friendly. Currently, walking around downtown, the dominance of the automobile is easily felt. Roads like McCarter Highway allow large volumes of autos to travel through the city while making a dangerous crossing for pedestrians. Cars here are so dominant that the cross walks don’t even turn to walk unless someone pushes a button. 6 lanes of traffic turn Market Street into a cluster of traffic, parked cars and buses. Perhaps most absurdly, Park Place has three lanes of traffic and two lanes of parking on a short street that borders Military Park. After spending $3 million on a Bryant Park inspired renovation, and dealing with historical preservation challenges, the park is still separated from the city by a large street. In the case of Park Place, this is an unjustifiably large street. Not every street in downtown can become as pedestrian friendly as Halsey Street, but there is still a lot of work that can be done. Continue reading


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Improving Downtown Newark

Newarks Gateway Center-1930-2012

The area of Newark’s Gateway Center in 1930 (left) and 2012 (right).

The city of Newark, NJ is receiving renewed interest after years of decline. This is not the first wave of re-investment in the city after the 1967 riots, but it happening under different circumstances. When the Gateway Center was built, urban renewal was an auto-centric retreat from city life. Though the gateway center is connected to Newark Penn Station by an architecturally parasitic skywalk, much of the commuting is by car. There are a couple of parking garages associated with the Gateway Center as well as numerous surface parking lots (According to the 2012 Master Plan, within a half a mile of Penn Station, there are more than 20 acres of surface parking lots). The streetscape along the Gateway Center is one of the worst in the city. Here, transit riders could walk on the sidewalk from Newark Penn to their downtown jobs, but between the hostile built environment of Market Street and the welcoming environment of the skywalk, much of the pedestrian travel avoids the street. This style of development is no longer acceptable and threatens to hamper Newark’s renewed growth as an urban hub. Continue reading


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Town Square Racetrack

Newton, NJ has a great central green from the colonial era, but the expanse of pavement and traffic surrounding it make this green underutilized.

Newton, NJ has a great central green from the colonial era, but the expanse of pavement and traffic surrounding it make this green underutilized.

While returning from a hike in northern New Jersey, I stopped in the town of Newton. This town of 7,983 serves as the county seat for Sussex County. Whenever I travel, I look for different places to explore. I happened upon Newton and was attracted to it by it’s great town green. This is a traditional colonial town green, dating back to 1762. Throughout the years, the definition of space created by surrounding buildings has largely been preserved. The Sussex County Court House provides a great terminating vista from both sides of town along NJ 94. A block away is the First Presbyterian Church whose amazing steeple can be seen from a distance when coming in from the north on NJ 94/US 206. I drove into town from the north which was busy with people going to and from big box stores lining the highway. The downtown itself; dead. Given the rural nature of this area (yes, there are rural parts of New Jersey), it seems that the population is too small to have a large enough customer base within walking distance to support much activity. Though dead on the weekend, the presence of shops and restaurants shows that the workday population is large enough to support some commercial activity. Though the downtown was under activated, it has the urban bones necessary to create a great place. Continue reading


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Urban Design in the Hudson Valley

Downtown Saugerties on a busy Saturday afternoon.

Downtown Saugerties on a busy Saturday afternoon.

Recently, my girlfriend and I took a trip up to the Catskill area of New York to attend her brother’s graduation. We stayed in Phoenicia and took some time to explore other nearby towns.

Phoenicia

Phoenicia (Pop 299) is a cute touristy town at the junction of the Stony Clove Creek with the Esopus Creek. This town suffered serious damage during Hurricane Irene in 2011. It has a nice main street, but doesn’t seem to maximize the benefit of its proximity to the creeks.

Saugerties

Saugerties (Pop 3,959) is located at the mouth of the Esopus Creek as it enters the Hudson River. This town has a much more developed downtown area. Shops are clustered on Partition Street and parts of Main Street. An overly wide and car-centric intersection at Market St. and Main St. cuts off a potential extension of this shopping district along Market Street. While it is not unsafe to walk to, the presence of parking lots at the intersection and the additional lane to accommodate higher speed turns creates the feeling that pedestrians are not welcome. Some traditional traffic calming measures in this intersection as well as a couple of pedestrian friendly buildings on the corners would improve the pedestrian atmosphere significantly and allow for this extension of the downtown area. A return to a pedestrian focus has already begun in Saugerties and can be seen in a great conversion of an old gas station/car service center into a restaurant. Continue reading