the urban prospector

Searching for Golden Opportunities in America's Cities

Improving Downtown Newark

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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.

Why is Newark growing now? There are several reasons behind the renewed interest in Newark. The growth in investment in New York City has pushed land values there up and pushed development outward. This development has moved to Brooklyn, Queens and Jersey City/Hoboken. In each of these areas, the same increased investment is pushing development further out. Development in Downtown Brooklyn is pushing people to Bed-Stuy and development in Jersey City/Hoboken is pushing people towards Newark. Newark also has one major strategic benefit over Jersey City/Hoboken: it is a great transit hub. From Newark, you are only a 30 minute ride from Downtown and Midtown Manhattan. Six of the nine New Jersey Transit rail lines in Northern Jersey run through either Newark Penn Station or Newark Broad Street Station. Newark is superbly connected. On top of all of this, Newark has over 50,000 students (according to the 2012 Master Plan) and hosts the headquarters for several businesses. Newark has the essentials necessary to attract jobs and development, but it must adjust its development strategy to provide in demand amenities.

While the last wave of development in Newark focused on the car, this new wave must focus on active transportation, public transportation, and in particular pedestrian activity. People are moving into downtown neighborhoods and they are looking for convenient amenities. They want to be able to buy groceries, go out to dinner and enjoy themselves without having to deal with the hassle of using a car in an urban environment. Transportation demand among commuters is shifting from driving to public transportation. The ability to get work done or to get a high score on your favorite app makes public transportation much more enjoyable than sitting in traffic. Upon arriving in a city, these transit riders want to be able to walk or bike safely to their destination. During lunch, these individuals expect to have a wide selection of restaurants within walking distance to choose from. The era of building surface lots, parking garages and buildings that turn their back to the street must be over to attract and retain these workers.

Fenced off and isolated from the street, the new Panasonic building does not help the pedestrian environment along already unpleasant McCarter Highway.

Fenced off and isolated from the street, the new Panasonic building does not help the pedestrian environment along already unpleasant McCarter Highway.

Looking at two of the most recent developments in downtown Newark shows mixed results. The much publicized move of Panasonic from Secaucus to Newark resulted in the creation of a new office building near Penn Station. While the location is superb for promoting transit use, the design itself is anti-pedestrian. The building is set back from the street and further separated by a fence and landscaping. Fortunately, this is on McCarter Highway (a street unlikely to ever be pedestrian friendly). The streetscape along Raymond Boulevard, which would be more important due to its connection to Penn Station, was already degraded by the anti-pedestrian design of The Legal Center. Unfortunately, combined with buildings across the street, there is very little potential for significantly improving the quality of the pedestrian experience along Raymound Boulevard.

Teacher's Village incorporates design features appropriate for this urban location. Although unfinished, there are many spaces on the ground level for new stores and restaurants. This will help make Halsey south of Market Street a destination for pedestrians.

Teacher’s Village incorporates design features appropriate for this urban location. Although unfinished, there are many spaces on the ground level for new stores and restaurants. This will help make Halsey south of Market Street a destination for pedestrians.

There is still hope for Newark though. Teachers’s Village, a development of the RBH Group, is very well done. This project  will host 3 charter schools, 214 residential units marketed to teachers and 65000 sq ft of retail for 20 businesses. The stores open directly on to the sidewalk. The buildings, though containing some modern touches, respect the street wall and properly frame the space around Halsey Street. Parking is limited to one spot per unit and only available for a monthly fee; parking is not subsidized. As far as the design is concerned, my only critique is that I wish the 65,000 sq ft of retail could be divided in a way to allow 40-50 businesses instead of only 20. If done correctly, the smaller retail spaces would have lower rents thus making it more affordable for Newarkers to start businesses there. These spaces could be designed to be consolidated when successful businesses need to expand. Ultimately, the increased number of shops would make the area even more interesting. Nonetheless, this is a minor critique of a superbly designed development.

As Newark’s revival continues, there will be many projects where Newark can work to maximize its future prosperity. The time available for some of these projects is very limited. Once a building comes in, it is difficult to fix any mistakes in the design. Places like The Legal Center may require demolition before pedestrian oriented improvement is possible, something that isn’t likely to happen for decades. Over the next few posts, I will be writing about ways to improve public transportation and active transportation along certain corridors in downtown, standards necessary to improve the quality of development, and ways to fix previous mistakes. In the meantime, what improvements do you think Downtown Newark needs in order to be a successful area?

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3 thoughts on “Improving Downtown Newark

  1. Great blog post about the advantages and challenges that Newark faces! This city seems to feel like it’s starting to hum back to life, although the improvements do seem somewhat slow and peripatetic given the base that its being built upon. Improvements are everywhere, such as the Panasonic and the Teachers’ Village developments that you mention, as well as developments ranging from the large new Prudential office tower being built on Military Park to a number of unheralded small condo projects built off Broadway in the North Ward. However, for every few steps forward, it does seem that Newark does take a step back, such as the recent bankruptcy of the city’s minor league baseball team.

    Still, there are ways Newark can improve that I would like to see. For instance, at the left-hand Exit 13 on I-280, it would be ideal for a commuter park-and-ride lot to be built at the bottom of the ramp, where commuters from western suburbs can take advantage of parking right adjacent to the Orange Street light rail station, and take the light rail to head to their jobs downtown, or to the NJIT and Rutgers-Newark campuses. Also, turning the site of the old Westinghouse factory right in front of the Broad Street Station into a town-square type park would also help center a redevelopment area around that station, especially with the new church at the far corner of the site centering the space. (You can clearly see that potential in the photograph used as the header image of this website – Broad Street Station is the campanile-style building in the right foreground, the new church is the building in the far left background, and the fenced-off blighted field in the center of the image is the old factory site that is currently in redevelopment limbo.) Other improvements that should happen for Downtown Newark include better transit service along the Springfield Avenue corridor towards the southwest suburbs of Irvington, South Orange, Maplewood, Millburn, Union, and Springfield; a new PATH station for the South Broad neighborhood once PATH is extended to the Newark Airport train station; and continuing streetscape improvements in buildings along Raymound Blvd. (historically a challenge since the oldest buildings along the street were built facing a canal, but since it’s been eight decades since the canal was replaced by the street, there’s been much improvement).

    • Thanks.

      I don’t know what to think of the loss of the Bears. The problem there is that there is very little reason to be near the stadium. If it was surrounded with activity, it could be used successfully for other purposes. I almost feel that Newark should cut its losses and open the stadium up for redevelopment (ignoring the acres of available land closer to Newark Broad that still haven’t been redeveloped).

      The park and ride idea is part of the Master Plan and is a good idea for removing some of the parking demand. The area around Broad Street Station is primed for development. I personally think the corridor between Newark Penn and Newark Broad Street could be the most important part of the city, particularly if the light rail frequency was increased to every 10 minutes during the day. There is so much development potential as well as waterfront potential in this area. I’d like to see a BRT or at least very express bus between Irvington and downtown Newark. The Irvington Bus Terminal could have significant potential, though it also has some significant challenges. As for the Path extension, I suspect that the Port Authority will screw it up. A station at South Street would be incredible. It would help revitalize the South Ironbound as well as Lincoln Park. I suspect that the Port Authority will ignore this potential and in order to save money, extend service to the airport without the additional stop.

  2. Pingback: 7 Proposed infill stations on the NJ Transit system | Transitism

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