A historic city, Newark, New Jersey is a city like many other major metropolitan cities. It possesses the same economic capabilities as surrounding New York City and Philadelphia; on an international scale, the city’s ports and Fortune 500 companies expand Newark’s range beyond the city and national limits; finally, Newark has its own set of historic sites and symbols that make it a city unlike any other.
Symbols and historic sites, one could assume, would create a base of culture capital for the city–something(s) that make residents proud to live in the city. Yet, there is a stunning lack of emphasis and recognition of these cultural sites and symbols that, in any other city, would be reserves of pride.
There are several reasons, I believe, for this lack of emphasis. The first: Newark’s residents have better things to worry about–namely, surviving and not slipping into abject poverty. Though there are gateways for national and international exchange, Newarkers rarely have enough time to interact with the world around them because most of their efforts are spent making sure that their dependents are not struggling. However, poverty does not necessarily mean a loss, or lack, of pride; everyone has pride in where they come from, and for things within their city. Thus, the (tentative) conclusion I have reached is that the city’s symbols and historic sites have been ignored and hidden from public view.
The purpose of this project is to educate Newarkers and people who are not from Newark symbols essential to the character of the city. In addition to this, elements of this project will include events in the past and present, and avenues of possibility for the future of the city.
Accompanying this website is an interactive map that explores specific points of cultural capital around Newark. The map includes details about the sites’ history as well as their significance to the city and why they should matter to Newark’s residents.
The driving question behind this project is to assess why historic sites and symbols do not play a prominent role in building culture around the city. I see culture as one of the social technologies that is used to give people of seemingly different backgrounds a common denominator–something everyone can connect to. So, why does it feel as though symbols that produce culture are not there?
Some of my thoughts on why these symbols have been forgotten is because they are vestiges of an old Newark. If Newark’s racial composition was the same as it was in the 1900s, perhaps these same symbols that have faded out of sight would be deemed as important. While working on this project, it was difficult to select elements of “real” Newark because aspects that constitute our culture are now largely intangible. The sites I have selected are mostly “hard” culture, or things that a person can actually see, and as mentioned above, these sites and monuments are from an older Newark–a Newark of a different racial and class composition. Another reason why I selected these sites is because these are the things I see on a daily basis. For me, they constitute the way I see Newark, they have served as my reservoirs of culture.
But again, the question remains, if people were given the chance to learn about and experience these sites, will people begin to see them as representative of Newark?
Points of Culture Newark (talk of criteria)
Newark’s history is long and extensive, and as such, it would not make sense to attempt to explore all of that history in this project. This project is only exploring specific symbols and characteristics of the city that have had a lasting effect on the city’s representations.
The criteria for picking these symbols are, admittedly, arbitrary. Most symbols are concentrated in a specific ward of the city, also, the symbols are based on what parts of the city I have been in, or frequently visit. Naturally, this means that the sites on this website and on the map are not fully representational of Newark.
PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE: PRUDENTIAL
(This was Prudential’s original HQ in Newark, it was demolished in the 1950s in favor of the current office building which was built to accommodate the company’s growing clientele and employees.)
(This is the current headquarters of the company, completed in 1960, the new building was seen then as the company’s commitment to Newark, in fact, the new building was part of a series of projects to modernize downtown Newark in preparation for a larger role in the national and international economy)
(Completed in 2015, the new Prudential Tower is supposed to serve as the company’s continued commitment to Newark. At 20 floors, the new tower is supposed to house a substantial portion of the company’s employees.)
An anchor for the city, Prudential has been a mainstay in Newark for over 100 years. Although the company has grown to the point of international acclaim, the company still calls Newark its home and headquarters. History aside, Prudential is a crucial lens from which to view Newark’s past, present and future; the images above are pictures of the company’s various headquarters over the course of the company’s 140 years. Evidently, the Prudential has shown its “commitment” to the City of Newark over this period.
The company’s history is intriguing because of Newark’s history after the 1967 riots. The riots were a turning point in Newark’s history when the racial and class composition of the city moved from White middle-class to Black working class. As Whites fled the city, building and city maintenance deteriorated, job opportunities became scarce, and poverty became all too common. For those reasons, Prudential’s commitment to Newark is admirable, it stayed even though the city was not the economic powerhouse it was once was or wanted to be. However, that is where the admiration for Prudential seems to end.
A vice president of Prudential at the 2015 opening of the new Prudential Tower described the company as, “part and parcel of Newark.” Despite this assertion, Prudential is not celebrated in Newark. As mentioned, this may be because the company is a vestige of an older Newark, one that was middle-class and affluent. Even the company could not escape this reality, today, there is a disconnect between the company and residents of Newark. A majority of the company’s employees are not from Newark, and those who do work for the company usually work in janitorial and maintenance positions.
Finally, the Prudential’s impact on Newark is not visible. Information on the company’s involvement in greater Newark is either unknown or very minimal. Thus, when Prudential began building its new tower, and revitalizing several blocks that surround the area, many did not see this as a company’s commitment to a city, instead, it was seen as a move to gentrify the city. Prudential Tower is not the only new building that was completed in Downtown Newark, in fact, a Whole Foods Market will be opening a block from the new tower and the city has already revitalized a park located across from Prudential’s old headquarters.
The city is changing, and based on national trends across the nation, people see Prudential’s new building as the beginning in a process of gentrification–where those experiencing poverty are pushed out for middle-class residents.
So instead of being a force that unites the city, the company is beginning to serve as a nucleus for change in the city that has many worried about their relationship with Newark.
EMPTY LOTS, DILAPIDATED BUILDINGS, AND GENTRIFICATION (Need to address culture)
Above are images of new apartment complexes that are being built in different parts of Newark. The first three pictures are of Teachers Village, a new “mixed housing” project. According to the project’s website, the Village consists of six new buildings that will also include three different charter schools inside the Village’s five block radius. The village’s purpose is to give teachers, students, and visitors a place to shop, learn and live. The last two images are of new apartment complexes being developed not too far from Downtown Newark. The apartments are part of a new plaza being built, in addition to the apartments, there is also a new Shoprite supermarket which provides high quality food and produce.
Located in Downtown Newark, the new development is seen as another sign of impending change for Newark. The city is attempting to market itself to new populations, however, they are also cognizant of the possibility of displacing residents who have been in the city for years. For this reason, the complex is “mixed housing” meaning that it would provide housing units for families that are low-income and also house middle-income families/peoples; the purpose of mixed-income housing is so that poverty is not concentrated in one neighborhood or part of the city (HUD).
Why is this important to culture?
Gentrification (most forms of it anyway) is seen by most people as displacement of one group for another, and to a certain extent, that is true. But at the same time, there are ways to make counteract the effects of the process. First, I think that the dialogue on the issue needs to change. Gentrification is often portrayed as an “us versus them” struggle–native inhabitants versus newcomers. This stance acknowledges that newcomers bring a different culture than the one(s) already present in the city; and in order to preserve the city’s characteristics, they must differentiate themselves from the newcomers. This abstract way of thinking also translates into where the two groups choose to live–newcomers normally live in revitalized sections of the city, while native inhabitants would live in areas of continued poverty. I think one way to change this narrative would be to first acknowledge that city’s are constantly changing places, and as the human population grows, more people will begin to move to cities.
For cities like Newark, that were once middle-class/white and are now majority black and low-income, it is necessary that we begin to define what our culture(s) is. Our soft culture is present, but it varies from neighborhood to neighborhood; however, if we begin to define and recognize aspects of our city that can become a unifying factor for those already within the city, it will be easier to preserve Newark’s existing culture when newcomers arrive. (Marsha Music, “Kidnapped Children of Detroit”)
Returning back to mixed-income housing, the city must also make an effort to make sure it remains mixed housing. Potential problems I see with mixed income housing is that they are located in a particular part of the city that is more expensive than other parts of the city. So even though the apartments have people who make lower incomes, the surrounding stores and retail options are meant for people with an higher income, this means that people with lower incomes have to go to travel to different areas of the city in order to do their shopping and retail. This is another way that good intentions can still displace native populations. Teachers Village and the new apartment complex being built can potentially run into these problems as they are both located in areas of the city that have slightly higher incomes. If they do not remain true to their mission, they can potentially turn into housing that ends up discriminating against people of lower-incomes.
Above are pictures of the Krueger-Scott Mansion. A prominent building on Martin Luther King Jr., Boulevard whose history is largely unknown. The building is on the New Jersey’s Register of Historic Places as well as the National Register, but a person could not tell it by just looking at the outside facade of the building. As of today, the building’s exterior is largely in disrepair and the interior is completely in shambles, even after about seven million dollars poured into restoration. The mansion’s history is an allegory for Newark’s history and an accurate medium from which to chart Newark’s history from prominence to attempted revival.
Gottfried Krueger, a German immigrant, built Krueger Mansion to not only display his wealth, but to also show the feasibility of the American dream. Most people saw the mansion as pretentious, but for an immigrant, the size and decor signified effort on his part. After Krueger died, the building went through several tenet changes, however, the next prominent inhabitant of the Krueger mansion was Louise Scott Roundtree. An African-American woman who went from being a maid in South Carolina to opening a beauty school on the first floor of the mansion. Many believe her to be the first black woman to become a millionaire in Newark. When she died in 1982, possession of the mansion passed to the city. From that point on, the building has gradually deteriorated even though preservationists have been fighting to give the building renewed recognition.
Supposedly, the building was supposed to serve as an African-American cultural center, but because the city spent the $7 million dollars improperly, efforts to restore the building have stalled. Krueger-Scott mansion perfectly embodies everything about Newark–its industrial past, the city’s rich African-American history, and now, it unfortunately symbolizes the city’s lack of identity and direction. Of all of the sites on the map, I would like to see Krueger-Scott Mansion restored and recognized. Should the city continue with its plan to make it an African-American cultural center, the mansion would serve a renewed purpose of teaching people, Newarkers and visitors alike, Newark’s history.
A MAGNIFICENT CITY
Aside from the changing landscape, there are a few sites that are already notable in Newarker’s psyche. Above is a marquee from the now deserted Paramount Theatre. Although the theater’s interior is in a state of complete disrepair, the sign itself is recognizable by all Newarkers and arguably, it is the preeminent symbol of the city. As a high school student, I passed by this sign daily, and yet I had no idea what its purpose was. In order to capitalize on people’s recognition of this symbol, I think that it is necessary for the city to officially recognize the site and then actively celebrate it.
As of now, I think that the city does a bad job of celebrating its sites. On the city’s official website (link here), there are only 11 sites that are considered “major attractions.” For most of these attractions, some people in the city are not even aware of their presence. If the city is looking to actually make these sites memorable, they/we need to do a better job of celebrating them as well as expanding this list. The list disregards parts of the city that Newarkers can consider theirs, instead, it only includes symbols of an old Newark. Again, if we want to create a solid culture, we need to find symbols of old (industrial middle-class) and new (African-American) Newark in order to capture the beauty of the city.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF PRUDENTIAL TOWER AND SHOPRITE
One of the reasons I include Prudential Tower and Shoprite in the map is because of what they signify for the future of the city. Prudential Financial, a life insurance company, got its start in Newark in a time that Newark was considered a valid economic powerhouse in the tristate area. After the riots in the 1960s, all economic potential that they city had was greatly diminished, mainly because the white middle class fled the city. Prudential stayed through tough economic times when the city struggled, as well as times when Newark was labeled a dangerous city. Despite Prudential’s commitment, I also don’t want to paint the company as a beacon of light in a city that was struggling; even with its continued presence in the city, to the average Newarker, the Fortune 500 company has not done anything to improve the lives of the people Newark. Thus, it is no surprise that even though the company has shown “commitment”, some see erecting an entirely new building in the heart of the city as a signal of gentrification. Many of the empty lots and abandoned buildings around the city that have been ignored for years are now being developed and redeveloped. Of course Newarkers want Newark to be developed, many are just afraid that once the city has been redeveloped, those with lower incomes would be forced out. Shoprite plays a role in stoking these fears as well. Though it is no where near the stature of a Safeway, the supermarket does offer high quality produce and goods that were not present in the city a few years ago (in a few more months, the city will also get its first Whole Foods Market).
To me, I don’t see the advent of these buildings and changes as something bad for Newark. As mentioned above, experiencing poverty should not be a barrier to experiencing and enjoying the luxuries of a city; people experiencing poverty deserve high quality produce and a functional city. The problem with all of these new developments then, is what are they doing for the existing inhabitants of the city? No where in the country, to my knowledge, has a city undergoing gentrification properly addressed this problem. What usually happens is the native inhabitants are pushed out, while an entirely new, foreign, population enters the city. Similar to what Marsha Music says in “The Kidnapped Children of Detroit,” there has to be an effort for old communities to welcome these new communities, but also for the new communities to recognize and acknowledge the old inhabitants.
Here is the link to the map: Cartodb