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Report Outlines Agenda for Urban Transformation

May 15th, 2008 by

  • New Jersey’s older cities have experienced a significant revival since 2000, outperforming the rest of the state in critical measures of economic growth.
  • Deficiencies in infrastructure and public services, and constraints on capacity and resources, continue to plague the cities, and threaten to undermine their revival.
  • Moreover, despite improvements in real estate markets and other indicators, comparable improvements in quality of life for all residents have not always followed; large numbers of urban residents still live in poverty.
  • Change in the cities has come about with little overall direction from either state or local governments.

Breaking With the Past

Two years ago, the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey began a systematic research effort to identify and analyze the key issues facing New Jersey’s cities. The Network’s first report, Cities in Transition: New Jersey’s Urban Paradox, released in 2006, suggested that the long-term prognosis for cities is positive—if they capitalize on today’s opportunities.

A follow-up report, New Jersey and Its Cities: An Agenda for Urban Transformation, released earlier this month, provides a comprehensive list of suggested ways in which the cities can capitalize on these opportunities. Some would require modest state investment, but most could be implemented, even in a shaky economy, without the need for additional spending.

For example, the report recommends a fundamental change in the relationship between the state and its cities, and the way in which resources are allocated and decisions made. Though the state has provided the cities with large amounts of money in recent years, these resources have not followed any larger strategy to help cities become self-sufficient and less dependent on state largess.

The report calls for strengthening the fiscal and managerial capacity of local governments by building a stronger state support system for local governance, providing state incentives for municipal excellence, promoting civic engagement and monitoring municipal performance through annual municipal report cards.

Initial Policy Priorities

In addition to encouraging partnerships between the state and local governments, the report identifies five specific policy priorities:

  • Restructure state economic development incentives and tools, including Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ), Revenue Allocation District (RAD) and tax-abatement programs, in order to link incentives more effectively to local economic development strategies and increased access to jobs for urban workers.
  • Mandate creation of an annual comprehensive state housing plan, including strategies for both construction and preservation of affordable housing, and restructure state housing programs to effectively support and implement the plan.
  • Address the impacts of subprime foreclosures to protect the interests of borrowers and prevent destabilization of urban neighborhoods.
  • Create higher-density, mixed-use and mixed-income developments in appropriate locations, such as transit hubs, downtowns and existing centers.
  • Promote balanced growth by creating a stronger State Planning Commission with the independence, capacity and authority to coordinate the state’s economic growth, housing, environmental protection and transportation strategies.

If you have any questions about this issue of Future Facts, please contact Peter Kasabach, Executive Director.

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