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College Papers on Key New Jersey Policy Issues Win Statewide Academic Award

May 4th, 2015 by

Affordable housing, communicating natural-disaster risk both central to New Jersey Future’s work

An undergraduate term paper examining Trenton’s approach to affordable housing in the 1960s and 1970s, and a senior thesis examining how ignoring risks after the 1962 nor’easter that struck New Jersey led to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, have been honored with the 2014 Stellhorn Award. The award, named after a New Jersey historian, is presented annually to an undergraduate paper and thesis on any topic of New Jersey history.

Both papers address topics that are central to New Jersey Future’s current work. Most recently, the organization was part of an amici curiae brief in the successful lawsuit to resolve the impasse over the state’s affordable-housing regulations; and a key issue in the organization’s post-Sandy recovery planning work has been how to communicate future risk in such a way that communities agree to take appropriate mitigation or adaptation actions.

Steven Rodriguez

Steven Rodriguez

The author of the award-winning term paper on affordable housing in Trenton, Steven P. Rodriguez, is a member of the class of 2016 at The College of New Jersey, majoring in history and philosophy. He is a member of two national honor societies, Phi Alpha Theta (history) and Phi Sigma Tau (philosophy). He founded the TCNJ Chapter of the Compass Fellowship Program, a national social entrepreneurship program, and is a member of the Bonner Community Scholars Program, a service program in which students donate an annual minimum of 300 hours of service working with Trenton-based not-for-profits. He hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in history and to continue as an activist for low-cost housing rights and other issues affecting urban areas.

The paper, “From Kingsbury to Mt. Laurel II: Low-Cost Housing and Exclusionary Zoning in Trenton, NJ”, examines the city’s varying approaches to low-cost housing between the 1960s and the 1980, focusing particularly on the city’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to cater to the needs of Trenton’s low-income residents while at the same time encouraging middle-income residents to return. The case studies included are instructive in showing how a complex-web of federal and state policy ultimately led to a legacy of urban decay and exclusionary zoning, issues that still plague cities like Trenton today.

Erik Snyder

Erik Snyder

The award-winning thesis was authored by Erik B. Snyder, who graduated from The College of New Jersey in May 2014 with a B.A. in history and a minor in politics, law, and philosophy. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Alpha Theta. In 2013 he received the Academic Excellence in History Award and his senior thesis also received the 2014 John Karras Award for History, awarded annually for the best senior thesis in TCNJ’s history department. He is currently serving a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA member. In this role as the statewide capacity-building coordinator for the national Bonner Foundation, he works with TCNJ and Rutgers University colleagues in efforts to advance their institutions’ commitments to civic engagement.

His thesis, “Stronger Than the Storm: Why the Great Atlantic Storm of 1962 Failed To Scare New jersey From Its Shore”, explores the ambitious plans triggered by the 1962 nor’easter to provide coastal reform in not just New Jersey, but the entire country. It examines the tensions that came to light between local home and business owners and government agencies. While some steps were taken by shore communities to arm themselves more effectively and prudently against the ocean, those measures fell short of the ambitious goals set by U.S. Secretary of Interior Stewart L. Udall, New Jersey Governor Richard Hughes and other federal and state officials. Their proposal called for government agencies to acquire vast amounts of shorefront property for public parks and sand-dune barriers. Snyder’s thesis argues that the tourism-driven economic incentive to rebuild the shore quickly, the nearly ubiquitous perception that the Great Atlantic Storm was a “freak of nature,” and the fierce resistance to new protective measures stemming primarily from the prioritization of private interests over public good, helped to undermine environmental reform measures along the Shore. The thesis concludes that government officials’ inability to realize reform in the last 50 years has directly shaped the Jersey Shore’s reality today.

Snyder is currently in discussions to have the thesis published.

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