the urban prospector

Searching for Golden Opportunities in America's Cities


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Better Block Newark

IMG_6348This Saturday, the City of Newark hosted an event, Better Block Newark, on Bergen Street between Lyons and Lehigh Avenues in the South Ward. This event was inspired by the Build a Better Block events that have been happening across the country. For those who have not yet heard of the Build a Better Block, it started in Dallas where several community organizers set up temporary improvements to the Oak Cliff neighborhood. Improvements included street scape, street crossings, a median created by placement of planters, and pop up shops. They took over a couple of lanes on West Davis Street and instead of the normal flow of traffic, created bike lanes and sidewalk cafes. It was a low cost and guerrilla style approach to neighborhood improvement. It has since launched similar project across the globe. Here in Newark, thanks to the work of the city’s planning department, it has landed in the Weequahic neighborhood. Continue reading


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Victory Against Surface Parking Lots in Newark

Members of PLUG celebrate victory at the Newark Zoning Board of Adjustment

Members of PLUG celebrate victory at the Newark Zoning Board of Adjustment

On Thursday November 13th, the Newark Zoning Board of Adjustment stopped (at least for the time being) the continued spread of surface lots in the Ironbound. A property owner wanted to convert his parcel near Penn Station into a surface parking lot and required a D Use Variance. This variance was denied by a unanimous vote of the 7 of 9 board members present. This decision is the culmination of a process that started in February. Opposition was led by the Planning Land Use Group (PLUG) of which I am a member. Continue reading


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Watch the GAP

Watch The GAPThe other night, Cailie and I went to a Brick City Conversations forum at Rutgers Newark on the topic of “The Economic Development of the Tri-State Region: Regional Plan Association’s Fourth Plan.” The forum was very interesting and a great event to attend. The weather however was not so great: a Nor’easter was forming off of the Atlantic Coast. Though the winds here have not been too bad, the cold rain did not make for an enjoyable walk. After a half mile of this, we decided to ditch walking and take a cab. Shortly after getting in the cab, we passed by where Modell’s had recently been located on Market Street between Halsey and Broad. While I had previously noticed that Modell’s was no longer open, I saw a new development: The GAP.

That’s right: The GAP is coming to downtown Newark. Continue reading


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Newark: Enlarged Parking Crater or Value Creation

Parking TradeoffFor the past few weeks, I have been working with the Planning and Land Use Group (PLUG), which is a group of planners, architects, and activists living in the Ironbound and Newark, in a fight against the continued sprawl of parking in this city. As the 2012 Master Plan notes, there is over 20 acres of parking surrounding Penn Station, which happens to be the best connected transit hub in New Jersey as well as the primary entrance to downtown Newark from transit. Unfortunately this acreage is expanding like a cancer on the city. A new parking lot in the Ironbound was approved in 2012 (though that decision is under appeal) and the Zoning Board was hearing an application to convert an old industrial site into another surface parking lot. Continue reading

Seeing Port Newark from the Water

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IMG_3208CROPThis past Saturday, I took a boat tour of the lower Passaic River and the port section of Newark Bay. This trip was organized by the City of Newark through the Newark Planning Office’s Newark Riverfront Revival initiative. The tour was joined by Isella Ramirez from the Ironbound Community Corporation who is working with the Coalition for Healthy Ports and Robert Harley, Supervisor of Intermodal Operations at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Cities in the industrial world have seen changes in the way that waterways are viewed. During the early years of industrialization, they were used primarily as transportation corridors and waste removal systems. Industry sprang up along riverfronts and the waters became highly polluted. The Passaic River did not escape this fate. Currently, the largest EPA Superfund site is in the Passaic River and is the result of years of illegal dumping of dioxin laden materials from the Diamond Shamrock facility. View the pictures →

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Can the Vancouver Style fix Newark’s Parking Crater?

Last week, I wrote about some pretty bad urban design developments in Jersey City. While looking at google maps, I noticed the development around the Newport PATH station and decided it would be worth exploring. I met my girlfriend Cailie at the PATH station to have a waterfront picnic as well as a chance to explore this recently developed urban neighborhood. During this time, I noticed several things

Urban Cul-De-Sacs

The southern section of River Drive in Jersey City has towers clustered around auto oriented cul-de-sacs.

The southern section of River Drive in Jersey City has towers clustered around auto oriented cul-de-sacs.

Along the southern section of River Drive, residential towers are clustered around cul-de-sacs. These cul-de-sacs offer building front drop-off and access to structured parking. In the middle of the cul-de-sacs are mini parks that offer seating for residents. At the entrance to the cul-de-sac is a wide gap between buildings and walking through one of these areas, one can tell that they were primarily designed for the automobile. Sidewalks are effectively cut off by entrances and exits to the garages. The wide entrances remove any sense of enclosure that is essential for good urban design. Along River Drive, these buildings offer ground level retail and restaurants, but in a disjointed fashion. It appears that this is an attempt to create a better pedestrian experience on River Drive, but unfortunately it fails at this goal. Continue reading


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Downtown Development Lessons from Jersey City

As I’ve said before, I feel that the prospects for renewed development in downtown Newark are fairly high. This wouldn’t be the first city in New Jersey to go through a period of massive development in recent times. Two PATH Train stops to the East is Jersey City. Here, on land previously dominated by rail yards serving New York City, new towers have been going up. While there are some developments that do very well in terms of creating a pedestrian friendly public realm, the buildings along Christopher Columbus Drive unfortunately do not. If Newark is not careful, developers may repeat these mistakes. Unfortunately many of these mistakes will leave a multi-decade legacy. Newark cannot afford to make such costly mistakes. From my walks around this area, I think there are four lessons that can be learned from these developments. These lessons can be applied in Newark and any other urban area.

Buildings should front directly on to pedestrian space

One Evertrust Plaza does its best to keep people away by being set back from the street and separated by a fence.

One Evertrust Plaza does its best to keep people away by being set back from the street and separated by a fence.

One Evertrust Plaza at the corner of Christopher Columbus Drive and Washington Street is a great example of this problem. The 17 story high-rise is separated from the street by large swaths of grass, some parking and what appears to be a 5 foot tall fence. Fortunately this building does not include parking underneath. If that was the case, the pedestrian entrance would be largely ornamental. An entire block in this superbly transit accessible neighborhood is completely devoid of street activities. It is possible to cut this building some slack; it was built in 1986, at a time where the developers can claim they didn’t know any better. Ultimately, the one message that One Evertrust Plaza gets across is, “Stay away!” Fortunately, this appears to be a correctable mistake. The first floor of the high-rise could be converted to pedestrian oriented activities, the fences could be removed and the excess space could be redeveloped. The space between the building and the intersection of Christopher Columbus and Washington could hypothetically become a well activated pedestrian plaza. Continue reading