Hundreds turn out in Newark for glimpse of a 'Better Block'

By Vernal Coleman | NJ Advance Media for
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on June 06, 2015

Newark officials and local residents gathered on Bergen Street Saturday for the city's first Better Block Celebration.


NEWARK – On a street once considered the business hub of the South Ward, dozens of city officials including Mayor Ras Baraka gathered Saturday to provide neighborhood residents a glimpse of its possible future.

Prior to the "Better Block" celebration, city officials, local artists and others worked to temporarily alter the physical space of Bergen Street between Lehigh and Lyons avenues, erecting small art installations and bike lanes.

"Pop-up" storefronts, including a health clinic, art gallery and wine-tasting station were set up in front of some the block's vacant buildings.

"We're trying to give people a glimpse of what this block could be," Baraka said. The city's goal, Baraka added, is to collaborate with neighborhood residents on what the redevelopment of the area will ultimately look like.

The event is just one of a handful of efforts the city has initiated to spark a transformation of Newark's most troubled neighborhoods. In November 2014, Baraka announced the "Model Neighborhood" initiative, a code enforcement program designed to help combat high levels of crime and blight in Clinton Hill and the city's West Ward.

Deputy Mayor Baye Adolfo-Wilson said the revitalization of Bergen Street has already begun. A pair of mixed-used buildings are set to replace vacant lots that dot the blocks between Lyons and Lehigh Avenues, he said. Once constructed, the buildings will add 60 units of mixed-income housing to the neighborhood, he added.

Newark's redevelopment efforts have attracted national media attention of late. A Politico article published in March asked whether the city would be the next city dubbed the "new Brooklyn."

Kim McCutcheon, who has lived near Bergen Street for the last 15 years, said she's not worried about whether the revitalization of Bergen Street will result in Brooklyn-like housing costs. "Honestly, I just want to see what ideas people come up with for this street," she said.

"These empty spaces utilized,' McCutcheon said. "Right now, I'm just hoping for better."

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