Working for Smart Growth:
More Livable Places and Open Spaces


A Civic Asset To Boost Economic Opportunity

Project Name: Second Street Youth Center

The first new facility of its kind in more than a decade, constructed on formerly blighted land to provide services and support to families in a historically underserved neighborhood

Partners: City of Plainfield; J.G. Petrucci Company, Inc.; TD+Partners; Second Street Youth Center


The environmentally compromised property at the corner of Plainfield Avenue and South Second Street in Plainfield had been used as a parking lot for almost two decades. Its neighborhood, once home to employees of nearby manufacturing facilities, has recently seen disinvestment and neglect, and today is home to more than 4,000 mainly low-income and minority residents. Despite its assets — there are two Olmsted-designed parks, many churches, and abundant public transit nearby — there is no major grocery store within two miles, making it a USDA-designated low-food-access area and creating a particular food insecurity problem for residents with no car.

City officials believed the site could be redeveloped as a multi-purpose civic asset that would address multiple community needs, and serve as a springboard to give residents greater access to economic opportunity. The city created a redevelopment plan for the site, and was able to leverage New Market Tax Credits, a lease subsidy, developer contributions and a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement to make the project financially feasible. Now completed, the Second Street Youth Center offers a high-quality early-learning environment that prepares children to succeed in school and beyond. Because it has both preschool and after-school programs, it gives parents greater freedom to work, knowing that their children are in a safe and educationally stimulating environment. It is within walking distance for many of the families that use it and it is accessible by public transportation, reducing the need for car ownership and driving. And remediation and reactivation of the site is expected to have a positive effect on nearby property values.

In addition to enhancing economic opportunity, the center is intended as a vector for implementation of the city’s Healthy Plainfield initiative, which identified obesity and diabetes as key health issues in the community. A partnership with the Newark Conservancy has brought an urban farm to the site, both as a nutrition education tool and to provide children and their families with healthy fruits and vegetables they otherwise might not find nearby. The center also includes one of 26 Kids’ Cafes in New Jersey — a partnership with the Community Food Bank of New Jersey that provides food to children and families in food-insecure households. The site includes green stormwater management features that remove pollutants and allow the water to be used for urban farm irrigation. And office space is provided for social-services providers who can offer health, nutrition and financial literacy education and family support services to the wider community.

The center is intended to help reduce the city’s carbon footprint through the use of energy-efficient design, appliances, and fixtures and water-conserving plumbing. Its urban farm and Kids’ Cafe lower the transportation costs of bringing healthy food to the community, and the urban farm takes advantage of on-site composting of food waste.

Second Street Youth Center is a central element in Plainfield’s multi-year comprehensive economic development strategy, joining initiatives that will soon bring to the area 90 new units of affordable housing, a renovated recreation center, and a 44,000-square-foot distribution warehouse with its attendant jobs. It now serves more than 200 preschoolers and another 200 after-school children. It has become a key a civic asset, leveraging both its location and its range of services to generate expanded opportunity for the neighborhood it serves.

Supporting Partners: New Jersey Community Capital; M&T Bank; ThinkWilder Architecture

See all 2019 Smart Growth Awards

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