New Jersey, past and future

New Jersey has an awful lot of titles to its name, despite being small in size. It’s the most densely-populated state, as well as one of the wealthiest. It’s also one of the most-developed states in the nation. As such, residents of New Jersey have tried to tread carefully when it comes to development, with varying levels of success.

From Jay Corbalis of Smart Growth America coalition partner New Jersey Future, here is a look at some key aspects of New Jersey and smart growth in the last 20 years. (Check out their new blog called Garden State Smart Growth to learn more about what New Jersey and its residents want for the next 20 years.)

  • After four decades of population loss, New Jersey’s eight urban centers, as designated in the State Development and Redevelopment Plan, reversed course and resumed growing in the 1990s, though at a rate less than one-eighth that of the rest of the state. They further rebounded to about a quarter of the statewide growth rate between 2000 and 2008.
  • Residents in 30 of the state’s most distressed cities (as identified by the Housing and Community Development Network’s “Cities in Transition” study) remain poor, on average, with a combined per-capita income half that of the statewide average — and less than one-sixth that of the state’s 30 wealthiest municipalities. Their collective unemployment rate was 8.6 percent in 2008, compared to 5.5 percent statewide.
  • Between 1995 and 2002, a total of 54,000 acres of land were developed in areas designated primarily for conservation by the State Plan. This is an area nearly the size of Union County.
  • Only 5 percent of people who work in New Jersey (i.e., excluding commuters to New York and Philadelphia) ride transit to work, which is no better than the national average. New jobs in New Jersey have been appearing predominantly in places not easily accessible by transit (e.g., Parsippany, Bridgewater, Mount Laurel), while they have been disappearing from transit-friendly locations such as Newark, Elizabeth and Camden.

If you need more New Jersey in your life, this week the Sundance channel is re-airing their celebrated 5-part documentary “Brick City” about revitalization efforts in troubled Newark.  (I missed the documentary the first time around, but I’ve heard great things.)  Newark’s history of poverty and violence goes back to the riots in 1967; its corruption ran so rampant that the last three mayors were indicted on criminal charges.  Mayor Cory Booker has been doing some astounding things in an embattled city. (Read a profile of Booker in Next American City.)

Last year, for instance, its homicide rates decreased by more than 30 percent.  As a New Jersey native, I can only hope that both Newark and New Jersey continue to make these great strides towards a better, smarter future.