Revitalizing an Essential Urban Public Space
Project Name: Military Park, Newark
Reactivation of a neglected landmark downtown park as a thriving public space
Partners: Biederman Redevelopment Ventures; City of Newark; Prudential; The MCJ Amelior Foundation
Smart-Growth Challenge: How can a city reactivate a historic but neglected downtown park so that it enlivens and strengthens the neighborhood around it?
It was first planned in 1667. It has been used as a training ground for soldiers and then as the town commons. It has a monument by the artist who sculpted Mount Rushmore. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places. But over the last half-century, as its host city declined, Military Park became worn out, unloved and neglected, despite its central location near transit, the downtown business district, and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
Military Park Sword
Military Park Borglund memorial
Military Park NJPAC
Military Park activities
Military Park reading room
In 2010 a not-for-profit coalition was formed to clean up and reactivate the park. Comprising the City of Newark, the MCJ Amelior Foundation, and Prudential, the Military Park Partnership retained Biederman Redevelopment Ventures, best known for the 1992 revitalization of New York City’s Bryant Park, to lead the park’s redevelopment. The park’s landscaping got a significant makeover, including replanting the sword-shaped garden, and charrettes were conducted among local residents, the arts community and members of the nearby Rutgers Newark community to identify priorities for activities in the park.
The park reopened officially at a rededication ceremony on June 13, 2014, and today boasts more than an acre of new gardens; a new restaurant soon to open; new public restrooms; and lawns and plazas that host a range of activities including yoga and fitness classes, chess and ping-pong, music and film, a farmer’s market, a “reading room,” and a playground for children. Many of these activities are provided by local business partners, and all activities in the park are free and open to the public.
The revitalization of Military Park has also begun to transform the neighborhood around it. Prudential is building its new headquarters directly across Broad Street; a former department store will soon be home to both residences and retail including the city’s first Whole Foods; a second mixed-use building is going up adjacent to NJPAC, and the former Ballantine brewery nearby is being retrofitted for mixed use. In addition, three bus stops along the park’s western edge have now been upgraded, with new benches and electrical outlets as well as nearby park staff to assist with directions and questions.
Still to come in Military Park is the restoration of its monuments, including the massive Wars of America, which is intended to honor all Americans who had died fighting in any war. The monument was sculpted by Gutzon Borglum, who also sculpted Mount Rushmore. But today, after a facelift that has enriched its appeal, usability and security, Military Park now offers a lively, welcoming environment that honors its history and central role in the city of Newark.
Supporting partners: Project GreenSpaces; PSE&G; Trinity and St. Philips Cathedral