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New NJF Report Explores How to Promote Racial Integration in NJ Municipalities

September 22nd, 2022 by

Jersey City, NJ

New Jersey is paradoxically one of the most diverse and most segregated states in the nation. The state has grown more diverse over the last two decades, with its non-Hispanic white percentage shrinking from two-thirds of the state population in 2000 to a little more than half as of the 2020 Census, with notable proportional growth among Hispanic and Asian-American communities. But New Jersey’s macro-level diversity often does not translate into integration at the local level, and places that are integrated at the local level don’t always stay that way. New Jersey Future’s new report, “Promoting and Maintaining Racial Integration: Lessons from Selected New Jersey Towns,” examines what towns can do and have done to foster stable racial integration since 2000.

To explore possible answers, New Jersey Future summer intern Isabel Yip researched examples of New Jersey towns that have achieved and maintained an above-average level of diversity over two decades, to see what state and local leaders and policy makers might be able to learn from them. With advice from some of New Jersey Future’s professional colleagues who have experience in promoting integration and fighting discriminatory land-use practices, Isabel gathered information and insights from local officials, housing advocates, and engaged residents from a set of seven case-study municipalities that have engaged, in one way or another, in efforts to promote racial inclusivity. 

These municipalities included: 

  • Montclair: The legacy of redlining recedes as demand grows for walkable and transit-oriented development–and raises concerns about displacement.
  • Asbury Park: A town with a recent history of inclusion now struggles to maintain its diversity in a changing market.
  • Cherry Hill: A former destination for “white flight” embraces diversity.
  • South Orange and Maplewood: A coalition of residents from two neighboring towns demonstrates the value and importance of active and continuous engagement on integration.
  • Jersey City: The state’s most diverse municipality finds that diversity is not a static concept.
  • Pennsauken: Community engagement is important – and so is diversity in leadership.

Yip and New Jersey Future found that the concept of “stability” is elusive, and that promoting integration is an ongoing process that requires consistent attention and dedication from civic leaders and community members. Other themes that emerged from her fact-finding effort included policies like inclusionary zoning ordinances to maintain housing affordability, community engagement by public-facing agencies like police departments and school boards, and the creation of spaces in communities that promote casual interactions among people of diverse backgrounds. As the public becomes more aware of the degree to which local decisions about housing and land use affect who your neighbors are, the lessons and methods captured in this report indicate areas of success and improvement for municipalities and communities to adopt or avoid.

Read the full report here.

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