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SPRING 2007  · DECEMBER 2006 · JULY-AUG 2006 · APRIL--MAY 2006 · FEBRUARY 2006
Lost City · Black History Month  · Corruption in Kenya · Women Leaders · Harry Belafonte  · St. Patrick's 4 · Out of Sight, Out of · Karen Kwiatkowski  · Samir Khader · The Quest for Peace · The Magic Man · President Pinocchio · Exxpose Exxon · Rocky Flats · Impeachment · Words of Inspiration · Night

Click above, for articles in this issue.




Newark has been a great city.  Its history recounts great accomplishments, inventions, and deeds.  It has been the home of some notable persons; Aaron Burr, Thomas Edison, Stephen Crane just to name a few.  Some of the largest companies of America got their start in Newark; insurance, manufacturing, railroads, confections, beer, etc. Even celluloid film, the precursor of the moving picture, was invented in Newark. 


After the civil disturbances of 1967, the city began a fall that seems to refuse to reverse itself.  Lately, in the last few years, some of the ‘bigwigs’ of business in partnership with local, state and federal governments are attempting to reverse the trend of deterioration, through investment in commercial properties, and through infusion into capital improvement projects.


First crime, endemic in the public housing ‘mini-villages’ of wanton abandonment, was tackled in a three-pronged approach; more policing, reduced public assistance, and condemnation actions of the housing stock.  The end result; vast stretches of empty land, thousands homeless, destitute and awaiting subsidized housing for years now.  After destroying most of the high-rise public housing stock in the city, many of the inhabitants of those high rises have been forced to leave the city, becoming the ‘new found problem’ of some other municipality. Recently, the head of the Newark Housing Authority retired amid a federal investigation into alleged cronyism, impropriety, misappropriated and misspent millions of HUD dollars.  In fact, Newark HUD has invested some of their funds into the arena project rather than into what it should be its main focus—housing for the poor. 























Meanwhile the city is touted as a renaissance city.  The Mayor says so.  It has seen a spike of new housing construction, a new performing arts center, a new trolley system is being built connecting Penn Station, the rail hub of northern New Jersey located in the city, with the Broad Street railroad station that serves suburban Essex and Morris counties.  Also relatively new is a minor league baseball stadium serving the Bears, and a soon to be built arena serving the NJ Devils, a national hockey league team. The city has footed the bill for the sports stadium and the arena, to the tune of millions of dollars.  The arena alone is already exceeding 300 million, after one accounts for the demolitions, and infrastructure improvements.  This is money that could instead be used to fix streets, acquire fire fighting equipment, or improve other city services.

























Traveling the city by car or bus, especially the central and west wards, there are blocks and blocks of empty land, except for the new housing going up at previously unprecedented rates in all wards of the city.  Most of this new housing reflects a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach of fast, cheaply constructed edifices that lack aesthetics, and are beneficial only to the construction companies as well as the long list of interested middlemen that insure they be erected with minimal obstacles. 





By next year, 2007, Newark will have traversed a forty-year period of ‘recuperation’ that still has no Master Plan in place.  City streets, constituted by deteriorating brick sewers that date back just before the civil war, are beginning to crumble.  Nearly 50% of its fire hydrants are not functioning, and its fire stations are decrepit.  The union representing the firemen of the city  constantly complain about poor equipment, working conditions, and even lack of fuel for the trucks that are needed to serve the city in life-critical emergencies.  Some of the water mains buried under city streets contain lead pipes that leach the metal into the water, and are both a threat to the health of its citizens as well as illegal, in terms of both state and federal legislation.


The city’s public school system is abysmal; teaching, infrastructure and leadership.  Although some improvement can be noted, and there are a handful of schools that buck the trend, overall the system is crying for drastic action.  Buildings are poorly maintained; in the east and north wards they are severely overcrowded, due to in most cases the illegal tenant population of multifamily buildings that house illegal apartments.  In fact, some real estate salesmen market some of the new housing to potential buyers, by making the case: “you can make another apartment behind the garage, without a problem, the plumbing is already in the walls and easily tapped into.”


Meanwhile, potholes litter the city’s byways, and grooves in the asphalt etched by heavily ladened tractor-trailers, make driving down the main thoroughfares either a nightmare or an adventure given your interpretation.  Then there are the poles that provide lighting or hold traffic signals, some with missing access plates at the base that expose electrical wires—a danger to young children.  Recently on the corner of Spruce and Washington Streets I observed a light pole that danced back and forth several inches with the wind.  Will it fall and strike a pedestrian or cause a car accident—your guess is as good as mine.


Amid all this, the mayor—a full time mayor that works part time because he is also a full time state senator that works part time—revels in the accomplishments of his administration.  His office recently printed a 2006 glossy calendar that is more advertisement than calendar, at taxpayer expense, which sports pictures of the Mayor throughout the city next to projects that have gone up during his years as Mayor.  The month of December highlights a picture of the Mayor next to his family wishing the taxpayer, ‘Happy Holidays.’ 


Using the media, he tells us that during his watch, the city has gotten rid of most of the delapidated and crime ridden public housing stock, while new housing is going up—our housing is in the top ten most expensive in the nation.  Isn’t that great?  People are paying top dollar to live in Newark.  But what kind of housing is going up? 
























The city is being cheated on several fronts.  Land is often sold at public auction  ridiculously below market rates, sometimes at $1 a square foot—the effect being an indirect looting of public coffers.  When land transfers hands to developers, housing is then built that lacks imagination, ideal energy efficiency, or visual appeal.  The materials used are bare bones; make use of pressed plywood (residual sawdust and wood chips that are mixed with glue to form sheets of 4 feet by 8 feet) on the exterior walls, which then are covered with either a plastic vapor barrier sheet, or a tar-based paper.  This in turn is covered with a layer of hard foam insulation of minimal insulating value and  finished with aluminum siding, and/or faux-brick facade.  Many houses have balconies that have exposed treated wood. 

























The city is missing the boat in terms of creating a new metropolis that could be a model for the nation.  Houses could be built that incorporate Photovoltaic panels on the roof to capture energy from sunlight and then store some of that energy in batteries.  The New Jersey Institute of Technology has for many years been collecting data through its own 'solar house variant' located in Newark, and the data is clearly positive. Excess energy produced can be sold and transferred to the power grid thereby helping to reduce air pollution caused by regional power plants that still utilize fossil fuels to generate electricity.  Such 'green' systems could also produce hot water and further reduce the need for natural gas.  The cost of such systems span 20,000 to 70,000 dollars for a home. The resulting savings would not only benefit the future homeowner, but also the city as well as our society. However that’s 20-70 thousand out of the pocket of the builder, so there is no interest in implementing such systems.  The city could mandate that new construction meet minimal measures of energy conservation as well as energy self-sufficiency, but again there is neither vision nor seeming intelligence governing Newark’s city government. 


Building in Newark, is willy-nilly, no thought to the environment, and no thought given to creating beautiful and healthy neighborhoods for the future.  The only concern one finds, is the sickly drive to maximize profit for those who benefit at the expense of the misery of the inhabitants of this city.  New homeowners are being sold, in many instances, substandard housing at overly inflated prices, on land acquired from the dispossessed poor.  Graft and corruption play their part.  There have been complaints of new housing built with severe defects, with inadequate structural supports, or poorly built crumbling foundations--housing that seems to pass muster with city inspectors.


There are stories too, about former mayoral aides, indicted on corruption charges, that now work in concert with real estate ‘professionals’ to help steer the bureaucratic maneuverings of easy inspections and fast building approvals.  Newark is a lost city.  It has long lost its moorings, and with the current course of leadership only deepens itself in a big muddy of corruption, ineptitude, and lost possibilities.


Victor Saraiva



Posted  March 11, 2006

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