Newark 3-D model shows city in detail -- and transition | Di Ionno

By Mark Di Ionno | The Star-Ledger
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on July 10, 2016

Visitors at the Newark Public Library view a three dimensional map of Newark.

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Everyone has the same reaction to the 3-D model of Newark in the lobby of the main branch of the city library.

Kids, grown-ups, even the mayor.

They lean in and try to find their houses.

There are hundreds of thousands of color-coded pieces on the roughly 15-by-15 foot model, which represent every building in the 26-square-mile city. One- and two-family houses are yellow, apartments are orange and high-rises are a brighter orange

Providence Amissah Green, 44, was looking for her building, the new public housing towers on Nevada Street. She found the golden dome of City Hall, the miniature model of Symphony Hall and the green triangle of Lincoln Park to locate her high-rise.

"This is amazing," she said. "What kind of mind does this?"

The long answer is this: The model is the centerpiece of an ongoing installation of a project called People Power Planning Newark, created by several civic entities and artist Bisa Washington. It was primarily funded by the National Endowment of the Arts.

Close to 200 volunteers, many from the New Jersey Institute of Technology's School of Architecture and Design, worked on the project for more than four years.

The short answer is this: The kind of minds that want to spur imagination and education in kids and adults alike.

It certainly worked on Khya Hatch, 9, and Kedrick Quartsin, 9, a boy who approached the 3-D model with such hands-on joy, he had to be reminded by a library worker that "it's not a toy."

The kids began running around the model to get their bearings, looking for their neighborhood and school, which, like all public buildings, is color-coded in blue.

Easier to find was the library building itself, marked by a flag that says "You are here" on one side and "Estas Aqui," the Spanish translation, on the other.

"Everybody tries to find their house," said Mayor Ras Baraka on Thursday at the re-opening of St. Peter's pool and waterpark on Lyons Avenue in the South Ward. "I did it, too. I tried to find the different monuments and places, like City Hall, that were especially meaningful to me."

One of those places was St. Peter's Park, where Baraka swam in the old pool, played basketball on the old courts, was on the Little League Mets as a kid.

"This place has a sentimental value for me," he told the crowd at the ceremony.

And sure enough, the park is on the 3-D map, painted green, the color code for recreation.

It's not far from the mini-spaghetti bowl jumble of overpasses and ramps that make up Routes 1 & 9, 21, 22, 78 and Turnpike interchanges, and the giant swath of gray that represents the parking and pavement areas of Newark's airport and seaport.

"You see they take up about one-quarter of the city's total area," said Tony Schuman, an NJIT professor of architecture and one of the project directors. 

In this way, the 3-D map shows the city in a perspective not possible to see from the ground, or even the air.

The three-dimensional model isolates Newark, like a big piece removed from the metro area puzzle. The northeast boundary meanders along the Passaic River; the extreme west juts well into the neighboring towns of Irvington, Maplewood, South Orange and East Orange.

The model is also close to being topographically correct, showing the city's climb from sea level at Newark Bay toward the elevated ridges of Clinton Hill and Martin Luther King Boulevard, formerly known as High Street.

It shows how small the downtown is, relative to the vast neighborhoods, and how the main roads -- Elizabeth Avenue, Springfield Avenue, West Market Street, South Orange Avenue and Bloomfield Avenue – spike in straight lines from the downtown into the suburbs.

It also illustrates the dearth of shopping areas along these roads.

"This was a city of many downtowns," said Fran McClain, president of the Rutgers-Newark Alumni Association. "I remember when I was a little girl in the '50s, there were parades down Orange Street."

One of the points of the project is to get voices like McClain's together to talk about Newark history and future.

Damon Rich, another project director, said, "The whole goal is to get people interested and active in planning and to know how things work."

Workshops on zoning and development are planned.

"We want to bring people into the discussion about how the city will plan, moving forward," said Rich, Newark's former planning director and chief urban designer. He is now a partner in Hector Design Service of Newark, with Jae Shin, who is also a project director.

One part of the exhibit, which officially opens July 20, depicts how city planning was done in the past -- often by developers and officials, while residents sat on the sidelines.

A map plan from 1915 shows the entire Ironbound industrial area zoned for residences, never foreseeing the westward expansion of the Newark suburbs, which devalued the city's housing stock.

A 1947 plan pinpoints areas of "blight." A late 1960s version shows those areas vastly expanded and categorized as "predominately blight" and "scattered blight."

Then comes the 1972-73 plan for urban renewal. More than 40 years later, Newark's change continues, as the 3-D model shows.

There are empty lots on which the James Baxter Terrace projects stood, just a three-block walk to NJ Transit's Broad Street Station and the Midtown Direct train lines. Vacant, for now.

The 3-D model, which will move to a permanent home in City Hall by the end of the year, represents a snapshot of Newark today. But it can always be amended. The vacant Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium – also near the train line – is on the model, but who knows for how long?

Change keeps coming, hopefully – and continually – for the better. The revitalization is on and the model, in its own way, is evidence of that.

"Every city worth its salt should have a 3-D map," Schuman said. "And now we do."

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