Working for Smart Growth:
More Livable Places and Open Spaces


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New Jersey’s population impacted by loss of immigrants

August 6th, 2020 by Tim Evans

For the past decade, the small annual increases in New Jersey’s population have been largely due to immigration, as the Star-Ledger reported—using New Jersey Future as a source—in a June story (“N.J.’s population would have fallen over the past decade if not for growing diversity, new data shows”) about how the steady stream of immigrants has made New Jersey increasingly diverse. But with recent changes in federal immigration policy, the stream of immigrants has slowed to a trickle, with implications for the state’s overall population growth.

Earlier this year, the release of the Census Bureau’s 2019 state population estimates revealed that New Jersey experienced a year-to-year population loss between 2018 and 2019—something that hadn’t happened since the 1970s—with total population declining by 0.04 percent, or 3,835 residents. The March release of county population estimates provided further clarity, showing that population losses are happening in just about every corner of the state rather than being a strictly urban or suburban or rural phenomenon. Only six of New Jersey’s 21 counties gained population over the last year, and even these were mostly very small gains.

Losses happening in Smart Growth locations as well

The recently released 2019 municipal population estimates further reinforce the fact that New Jersey’s population losses are widespread, with 435 of the state’s 565 municipalities having fewer residents in 2019 than a year earlier. In every county other than Ocean, population-losing municipalities outnumbered gainers. While the story of population change in New Jersey for most of this decade has been about redevelopment—new growth happening in places that are already developed, having experienced their initial growth waves decades ago—this is not the case this year.  Between 2018 and 2019, the 349 cities, towns, and mature suburbs that were at least 90 percent built-out (as of 2015) collectively lost 5,051 people, a 0.083 percent loss, after having dominated the state’s population growth earlier in the decade. But at the other end of the spectrum, sparsely-developed places on the exurban fringe are faring even worse than the mostly built-out places: The 68 municipalities that were less than 50 percent built-out as of 2015 experienced a cumulative population decline of 1,112 people since last year, representing a 0.255 percent decrease (a greater loss than the redevelopment areas, in percentage terms). This year, population changes appear largely independent of what type of place is being considered.

Immigration rates dramatically affecting growth

Instead, the population stagnation that has gripped the entire state, afflicting both smart-growth areas and sprawling exurbia alike, appears to be tied to the macro factors discussed in New Jersey Future’s analysis of state population estimates earlier this year. In particular, recent changes in national immigration policy have caused net international immigration to drop nationwide and have had an outsized effect on New Jersey’s population dynamics, since New Jersey is a major immigrant destination and its population growth has been heavily dependent on immigrants in recent decades. As noted in our earlier analysis, New Jersey gained a net 50,087 international immigrants between 2015 and 2016 (an annual increase typical of most of the decade) but gained only 21,284 between 2018 and 2019—a decline of more than half.

The drop may be due to what is happening with the most recent and most vulnerable immigrants—those who are not yet United States citizens, whose residence in the country is hence the most tenuous and most at the mercy of changing policy. Nationally, from 2016 (prior to the change in administration) to 2018 (the most recent year for which data on citizenship status are available from the American Community Survey), the number of non-citizens has decreased by about 402,000, a 1.8 percent decrease, after increasing modestly (by about 21,000) from 2010 through 2016. In New Jersey, the number of non-citizens was already on the decline earlier in the decade, falling by a little over 12,000 (a 1.3 percent decrease) from 2010 to 2016, but dropped by nearly six times this amount—just under 73,000, an 8.0 percent decrease—in only two years, from 2016 to 2018.

Jersey City illustrates this phenomenon in microcosm. Its population of non-citizens declined by 1,186 between 2016 and 2018, after increasing by almost 8,000 from 2010 to 2016. While citizenship data are not yet available for 2019, Jersey City’s loss of 1,776 people between 2018 and 2019—the largest loss by far of any municipality in the state, and representing nearly half (46 percent) of the state’s total population loss—could easily be due primarily to a continuation of the downward trend in its non-citizen population.

In fact, given that New Jersey’s overall population loss from 2018 to 2019 was only 3,835, it is not at all hard to imagine that a further decline in the statewide non-citizen population — already down by 72,937 between 2016 and 2018, a sudden and dramatic acceleration of the trend from earlier in the decade — could be entirely responsible for the overall statewide loss, completely canceling out New Jersey’s already-slow growth from other sources.

Immigrant losses hitting smart growth locations

The drop in the non-citizen population is having a disproportionate effect on the compact, walkable places that have dominated population growth for most of this decade. Immigrants, and especially the most recent arrivals, tend to be drawn toward older cities and towns with traditional downtowns and a diversity of housing stock. Among the 32 municipalities in which non-citizens made up at least 20 percent of the population in 2016, a clear majority (26) score well on all three of New Jersey Future’s three smart-growth metrics — net activity density (population and jobs per square mile), presence of a mixed-use center, and local street network density — with another four scoring well on two of the three. Statewide, fewer than one in four municipalities score well on all three metrics, so compact, walkable places are substantially overrepresented among the magnets for recent immigrants. This group of 32 municipalities together lost more than 15,000 non-citizen residents between 2016 and 2018. If policy changes are resulting in recently arrived immigrants being sent back to their home countries before having the chance to become citizens, and in fewer immigrants choosing to come to New Jersey in the first place, this might have negative implications for downtown redevelopment efforts, by robbing the state of a key demographic group that has demonstrated an affinity for older cities, towns, and walkable suburbs.

General demand still strong for smart growth locations

The dramatic decline in the non-citizen population also calls into question the theory that the rebirth of the cities is over because Millennials have decided to move to the suburbs now that they’re having kids. Municipal population changes do not support the idea that people have suddenly decided to flee walkable urbanism for car-dependent suburbia. Rather, it may be that the people who have started leaving New Jersey in the last few years for reasons having to do with national policy just happen to have been concentrated in compact, walkable places. They are leaving those places, but because they are returning to their countries of origin, not because they want to move to a cul-de-sac subdivision.

A Shift to Working From Home Raises Many Questions About Potential Effects on Other Aspects of Daily Life

August 6th, 2020 by Tim Evans

working from homeA few weeks into Governor Murphy’s stay-at-home order, New Jersey Future and others commented on how the sudden and dramatic drop in driving was producing a corresponding drop in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. We wondered how much of the increase in working from home, and its accompanying air-quality benefits, might persist even after the pandemic eventually abates, especially now that many workers and employers are finding that a lot of meetings don’t have to happen in person and that they can accomplish much of what they need to do without direct personal interaction with coworkers.

But a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is just one of many possible downstream effects of having a larger share of the workforce work from home on a more or less permanent basis. Going to work is the single biggest reason that most people leave the house every day. What else might happen when leaving the house is no longer built into many New Jerseyans’ daily routines? Before we aspire to lock in our unexpected gains in reducing our carbon footprint, the law of unintended consequences suggests that we should consider what other effects might come as part of that bargain.

What will happen to all the office buildings that are abandoned by at least part of the white-collar workforce that used to occupy them during the day? What will happen to the central business districts—or the suburban office parks—that host those workplaces?

What will happen to the restaurants, delis, pharmacies, and other businesses that cater to the needs of the office workforce? How about these same types of businesses that are located where the new crop of telecommuters live? Will living near non-work destinations become more appealing when work no longer requires you to leave the house? What will happen to retail in general? Will shopping behavior change?

What might happen to parking demand if a lot fewer people are in their cars every day? How about road capacity? Might this create opportunities to reimagine spaces formerly devoted to cars?

How might a reduced need to commute to work affect people’s decisions about where to live? How might working from home affect our social lives?

New Jersey Future has attempted to game out some of the likely effects—both positive and negative—on the geographic patterns of residence, employment, shopping, and travel behavior if the stay-at-home advisories of the pandemic era translate into a permanent increase in the number of people working from home. Read our insights here.

New Jersey Future to work with regional campaign for resilience

July 14th, 2020 by Peter Kasabach

Ensuring a resilient New Jersey is a core tenant of New Jersey Future’s mission. For the past year, I have been co-chairing the Coastal Resilience Task Force that has been supported and managed by the Waterfront Alliance. The Task Force worked to develop recommendations for climate adaptations, investments, and policy changes to boost resilience in the New Jersey and New York region. 

The Task Force’s job is now over and the work has pivoted toward the creation of the Rise to Resilience action-oriented policy campaign. New Jersey Future is proud to be an inaugural member of the important and growing Rise to Resilience coalition, a group of New Jersey and New York residents, leaders in the business, labor, and justice communities, volunteer organizations, scientists, and environmental advocates. The coalition launched on July 10 with a virtual rally with over 300 attendees.

The Rise to Resilience campaign was created to advocate for local, regional, and national solutions to the climate change challenges threatening our communities. Hurricane Sandy devastated our region eight years ago, and a coherent future-oriented plan to adapt to climate change has yet to be developed. Meanwhile, our communities continue to experience the impacts of the climate crisis. It is time to invest our time, energy, and resources into a fair, effective, and timely adaptation strategy for New Jersey and our region and then to implement it. 

The following are some of the specific goals that New Jersey Future will be working toward and that overlap with the campaign: 

  • Develop strengthened flood risk disclosure laws in New York and New Jersey. 
  • Establish a clear governance system to oversee the implementation of statewide resilience policy.
  • Ensure that the Climate Resilience Plan and New Jersey Protecting Against Climate Threats (NJPACT) per Executive orders 89 and 100 effectively incorporate climate resilience into statewide policy.
  • Establish a state sea level rise standard to guide all tidal planning and investment decisions.
  • Amend the municipal land-use law to ensure that all local master plans incorporate climate vulnerability assessments and resilience measures.
  • Incorporate climate change risk into state Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) permits and stormwater rule updates. 
  • Develop and include measurable targets in the forthcoming State Climate Resilience Strategy to provide direction and accountability.
  • Establish a state-endorsed model vulnerability assessment for use by municipalities.

New Jersey Future has already been working on many of these issues, and looks forward to continuing this work with such an extensive coalition to make New Jersey more resilient. 

What’s in your water? A new dashboard will help you find out.

July 14th, 2020 by New Jersey Future staff

Author: Jyoti Venketraman

Public health connects us all. This is never more true than  during a pandemic. One of the most important public health successes of the past century is advances in sanitation and water treatment, on which we rely daily and yet it remains invisible. In our current pandemic, clean water to wash our hands and stay hydrated is our first line of defense against the COVID virus. When you open that tap, how do you know the water you use daily is clean? Where do you go to find this information? 

Every year in July, water systems put out a report called the Consumer Confidence Report (CCR). The CCR helps you as a consumer understand your water quality. You can access the CCR via your utility website or receive it along with your utility bill. Data like that in the CCR helps build trust and empowers users. 

The invisible nature of water and sewer infrastructure means data plays an essential role in showing progress, while identifying opportunities for improvement and investment. In a pandemic and accompanying economic crisis, statewide data on water infrastructure becomes more critical as it can help us identify trends in how systems are navigating the crisis, and plan for anticipated changes.

In December of 2020, Jersey Water Works (JWW), a 600-member collaborative of diverse stakeholders working to transform New Jersey’s water infrastructure, will launch an online data dashboard called Jersey WaterCheck. Jersey WaterCheck will be the first time data on water infrastructure from multiple sources will come together in one place to tell the story of New Jersey’s water and sewer systems. This web-based dashboard is being designed for a wide variety of users and will provide a range of metrics that is easy to understand. WaterCheck will:

    • Include information about every drinking water and wastewater system in the state. 
    • Integrate data from publicly available sources and survey information in one easy-to use website.
    • Give water and wastewater utilities a way to demonstrate the value of their services and show the positive impact they have on New Jersey’s water and public health.
    • Provide our state’s elected leaders the information they need to seek solutions to New Jersey’s significant water infrastructure needs.
    • Provide communities a way to engage with their utilities and understand the vital public health role these systems play. 

If you are a utility, Jersey WaterCheck can help you demonstrate progress, showcase public health commitment to your community, and enable learning on best practices from your peers. If you are a consumer, Jersey WaterCheck will help you better engage and understand your local water and sewer system and the role they play in community public health. On a state level, Jersey WaterCheck can help us narrate the story of our progress and identify opportunities to improve.

 As we develop Jersey WaterCheck, we are engaging our diverse stakeholders in JWW to guide the development process, provide feedback, and build support. Jersey WaterCheck development is being guided by JWW’s Data Advisory Committee members who bring a diverse set of subject matter expertise in the water metrics. A coalition of utilities are being invited to test the dashboard and provide feedback on the metrics. Finally, a consumer-oriented focus group will be organized to provide feedback.

Transparent data on water systems is essential for taking steps to keep you and your families safe. Water Check can help us tell data stories—stories of change, stories of progress, and stories of transformation. To learn more about Jersey WaterCheck via monthly updates, sign up for the JWW newsletter

Meet our 2020 Spring Interns!

July 14th, 2020 by New Jersey Future staff

New Jersey Future’s internship program is developing the next generation of thinkers in smart growth. We offer graduate and undergraduate students the opportunity to assist us with various projects, including research, writing, communications, and administration. We appreciate their wide-ranging contributions! See a list of our previous interns and learn how to apply

Here is what this summer’s interns worked on, in their own words.

Zachary Kocaj

Rutgers University
Field of Study: Bioenvironmental Engineering

Working as a data dashboard intern this summer was a new learning experience. The project involved gathering and analyzing data from potable and wastewater service systems throughout New Jersey. Under the guidance of Professor Daniel Van Abs of Rutgers University and Kimberley Irby of New Jersey Future, Matt Bewley and I collaborated to divvy up tasks to complete the project efficiently. Observing how much potable and wastewater services vary across the state has been eye-opening.

This internship has improved my communication abilities, time management, research efficiency, and Excel knowledge. I am thankful for the wonderful learning experience and look forward to continuing to work in the water services field. 

Matt Bewley

Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University
Field of Study: Urban Planning and Public Policy 

This summer, I worked with the Jersey Water Works (JWW) team to support the development of JWW’s future data dashboard. In particular, I helped gather data on utility rates and on utilities themselves, including about the availability of financial information and consumer confidence reports. Gathering the rates and other information required combing through a variety of sources, and I learned to quickly sort through rate schedules and utility webpages to extract the information needed. With the guidance of Rutgers Professor Daniel Van Abs as well as Jyoti Venketraman and Kim Irby of New Jersey Future, we made sure that the information we collected was accurate and that it spoke to the data dashboard’s performance metrics. With the data gathered this summer as its basis, the data dashboard will allow policymakers and individual water and sewer customers to assess utilities’ progress toward the goals of the JWW coalition. By contributing to this project, I developed a much better understanding of water and sewer systems in New Jersey, and this knowledge will be a big help as I start my career in urban planning.

Tom Kozma

Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University
Field of Study: Planning and Public Policy

Between graduating from Middlesex County College with an A.A. degree and starting at Rutgers University, I had the pleasure of working with Tanya Rohrbach on New Jersey Future’s Creating Great Places to Age program. My primary responsibility was to research municipalities which had successfully implemented strategies to increase the variety of housing available to residents, with a special emphasis on how older residents would benefit. 

Based on interviews with representatives from some of these towns, I co-authored a summary report of my findings. I also wrote two blog posts further explaining how some of these strategies, such as accessory dwelling units and public private partnerships, can benefit people of all ages. During my internship, I learned a lot about housing issues in New Jersey and the legal process surrounding zoning. I hope to use this knowledge as I continue my academic career and start to work in the world of planning and land use. 

Bolstering the Water Workforce with Innovative Programs

June 12th, 2020 by Kimberley Irby

The coronavirus crisis has reminded us of the vital role of our water infrastructure and, accordingly, has highlighted the impact of when it fails. Regardless of a contagious and deadly virus, public health is threatened without safe and reliable water services, both drinking water and wastewater. Along with reminding us how important water infrastructure itself is, the pandemic has also underscored that the water workforce is composed of essential workers. Although office managers may be able to work from home, that flexibility is not afforded to plant operators and others who must work in the field to keep unseen, but critical, functions running.

In New Jersey, as the coronavirus threatens public health in the state with the second-highest number of cases and deaths, the water sector has to work even harder to ensure that services continue unimpeded, while also managing the issues of lead in drinking water, combined sewer overflows, and aging infrastructure in general. The crisis has spurred calls to include funding for water infrastructure in federal stimulus packages, some with an emphasis on sustainability. However, considerations for a shrinking and demographically homogeneous water workforce have largely been missing from these conversations.

Nationwide, the water workforce is anticipated to dwindle due to older professionals, most of which are white and male, retiring. It is estimated that within the next 10 years, approximately one-third of water utility operators in the U.S. will be eligible to retire. This presents a challenge to fill vacancies with qualified candidates who will ensure that we have safe, clean drinking water and reliable wastewater services. However, this also presents an opportunity to fill vacancies with demographically diverse, local candidates – ideally those who also understand the importance of investing in upgrades and sustainability like green infrastructure (GI). In Camden and Newark, there are water workforce programs that have been created relatively recently to try to address these issues by training residents of communities that suffer from a combination of economic, health, and environmental burdens in GI maintenance and/or connecting them to professional opportunities in the water industry.


PowerCorps Camden is a training program for opportunity youth ages 18-26 who have a high school diploma. It blends environmental stewardship with support services, provided by a nonprofit called the Center for Family Services (CFS). Nearly half of the funding for the program is sourced from the Corporation for National Community Service (CNCS) and a little more than half is leveraged through matched dollars from other funders. Every six months, 30 members learn how to maintain green infrastructure, develop professional skills, and receive counseling to improve their confidence and guide them through the transition to working full-time. 

In Camden, the PowerCorps program has succeeded as a second of its kind, as the original one started in Philadelphia. This shows that a workforce training program of this sort is not only replicable, but adaptable to a given city’s circumstances. For instance, the City of Camden was unable to manage the program alone, but the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA) and the non-profit CFS, along with other partners, have been able to both secure funding from a federal agency and administer the variety of services necessary for the program.

Camden Works is a program open to any Camden resident looking for employment. It is not a technical training program like PowerCorps; rather, the focus is on helping participants refine their professional skills and connect them to local job opportunities. Similarly to PowerCorps, the Center for Family Services (CFS) serves as the resource for both professional development and social support. There is no educational requirement; if an individual wishes to get their GED, the program can help them do so. 

Both PowerCorps and Camden Works offer services to their members on a personal level. For example, if a member is dealing with childcare or transportation issues that will hinder their ability to get a job, the programs will help them mitigate the issues as much as possible so that when they get a job offer, they are ready to start without worrying about those types of hurdles. Additionally, members have control over what they want to prioritize and which barriers they want to address. Ultimately, the programs prepare their participants so that when the time comes, they are ready to fully dive into employment.


In Newark, the Ironbound Community Corporation (ICC) has trained 21 Newark residents to take the National Green Infrastructure Certification Program (NGICP). Certification requires a high school diploma or equivalent and completion of a GI training course. ICC owns a training license to do this and is the only certified trainer in the state. This is part of a larger job training program, funded through EPA Brownfields Grants, in partnership with the County of Essex. 

Besides the green infrastructure installation and maintenance classroom training, residents receive basic literacy training, as well as OSHA-10, OSHA-40, and OSHA Hazardous Waste and Emergency Response certifications. Due to COVID-19, they are delayed in delivering the second cohort of this training that would include hands-on training in installing and maintaining green infrastructure on several Blue Acres sites in the Ironbound that were bought out after Superstorm Sandy.

As a multi-service, community-based organization, ICC blends early childhood education and social services with community organizing and advocacy work to serve as a neighborhood anchor organization for the predominantly low income residents of Color in the community. One of their goals is to “address unmet needs and service gaps, particularly for under-served individuals and families.” Another goal is to help “develop self-esteem, self-efficiency, and civic participation.” Though ICC’s other services are not directly tied to the NGICP, residents that participate in the training would have access to those social support services all the same.

The types of training programs that have appeared in these New Jersey cities are special because, in addition to connecting local residents to water sector jobs, they are making a substantial difference in people’s lives. Moreover, these types of programs can have a three-fold impact: environmental, through supplying qualified workers to fill water sector vacancies; economic, through bolstering the local economy by hiring local residents; and social, through empowering those who come from traditionally disadvantaged communities. When discussing funding for water infrastructure, lawmakers should consider not only the physical make-up of the infrastructure, but also the human capital that makes it possible for clean water to reach our taps and dirty water to be collected and treated. As we navigate the new normal of COVID-19 recovery, we should consider expanding the reach of these water workforce programs, which have the potential to build resilience in our individuals, communities, and critical infrastructure systems.

Redevelopment Is the New Normal

June 12th, 2020 by Tim Evans

Since the end of the decade of the 2000s, New Jersey Future has been documenting the return of population growth to the state’s cities, towns, and older, walkable suburbs, noting that redevelopment (new development happening in places that are already built-out) has become the “new normal.” While it makes intuitive sense that increased growth in already-developed places has likely alleviated development pressure on the exurban fringe, we have previously lacked the ability to quantify this effect.

Recently-released 2015 land use/land cover data from the Department of Environmental Protection offer an opportunity to assess the state of land development in New Jersey.

  • From 1986 to 2007, New Jersey’s rate of land development was nearly double the rate of population growth; from 2007 to 2015, the ratio dropped to more like 1:1
  • Since 2007, most of the state’s population growth has been happening via redevelopment, in places with little to no buildable land left
  • Redevelopment can take many forms, from infill projects on surface parking lots, to adaptive reuse of existing buildings, to building whole new neighborhoods on large derelict properties

Now, with recent new data from the Department of Environmental Protection’s Land Use/Land Cover mapping project, and a value-added analysis by researchers at Rowan and Rutgers universities, we can clearly see the degree to which redevelopment has been saving land. From 1986 (the earliest year for which the project has produced data) through 2007,1 the number of acres annually converted to urbanized uses held steady in a range roughly between 14,000 and 18,000 acres (see Figure 1). But post-2007, that figure has dropped dramatically, first to a little more than 5,000 acres per year between 2007 and 2012, and then even further, to about 3,500 acres per year, between 2012 and 2015.

Figure 1.  Newly-Developed Acres Per Year

It is true that population growth has dropped off over the last decade as well, reducing the pressure to develop new land, but this alone does not come close to explaining the drop in the rate of land development. Between 1986 and 1995, and again between 1995 and 2007, New Jersey’s rate of increase in developed acres was nearly double the rate of population growth (see Figure 2). But between 2007 and 2015, the rates were nearly identical; population growth slowed, but new land development slowed by a lot more. In the latter period, the state thus developed far fewer new acres for every new resident than had been true in prior decades. How did this happen?

Figure 2.  Rate of Land Development vs. Population Growth

The decrease in newly-developed acres per new resident happened largely because of the channeling of growth back into older cities and towns; when new people move into a place that was already mostly developed, and new development happens by reusing previously-developed land, the amount of newly-developed land per new resident is essentially zero. Prior to 2007, municipalities that were already at least 90 percent built-out 2 (that is, had developed at least 90 percent of their developable land, with most of the remaining undeveloped land being either permanently preserved or undevelopable due to regulation) were mostly stagnant or actually losing population. But built-out places have dominated growth since the Great Recession3, with municipalities that were at least 90 percent built-out as of 2015 accounting for two-thirds of the state’s population growth between 2007 and 2018 (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: % of Total Population Growth Accounted For By Built-Out (≥ 90%) Municipalities, 2000-2007 vs 2007-2018

How does new population (and job) growth happen in places that have little or no buildable land remaining? What does “redevelopment” actually look like on the ground? The answer often depends on what kind of development is already in place.

Infill on surface parking lots

Many places have more buildable land remaining than they realize, even if most of it is technically “developed.” “Developed” does not always imply the presence of buildings or other structures; sometimes it simply means “paved.” Surface parking lots represent a de facto land bank for many less densely-developed towns, offering opportunities for infill development between existing buildings, especially if parking structures can be constructed to retain parking capacity but with a smaller two-dimensional footprint. If the existing development pattern is already mixed-use and walkable, infill projects can be designed to harmonize with their surroundings. If the existing pattern is more car-oriented or dominated by a single land-use type, infill projects can offer a chance to create pedestrian amenities and to add land uses or housing types that are currently missing.

Some New Jersey examples include:

  • A new seven-story mixed-use complex in Woodbridge, planned for the site of a strip mall and parking lot adjacent to the Woodbridge train station
  • Woodmont Metro in Metuchen, an apartment complex with a new public plaza and new parking structure, built on a former commuter parking lot adjacent to the Metuchen train station, that will help diversify the borough’s housing stock, which was previously dominated by single-family detached homes
  • Voorhees Town Center, formerly known as Echelon Mall, was a more extensive adaptation, where not only was some of the surface parking replaced with new townhouses, a short restaurant row, and a pedestrian plaza, but part of the mall itself was also knocked down to make room for the new uses

Adaptive reuse of existing buildings

One way to absorb new residents into a built-out place that results in minimal visual change to the existing landscape is by converting non-residential buildings into housing, whether it be an old factory, an office building, a church, or some other obsolete land use. Or a building can be converted to offices or some other use for which it was not initially designed. This can happen even in the most densely developed places, because there is no need to squeeze in any new buildings—the existing buildings have already claimed the space.

Some examples include:

  • Luxe Apartments, adjacent to Woodbridge Center Mall in Woodbridge, where an office building is having the upper floors converted to luxury apartments
  • Edison Village in West Orange, a complex of historic factory buildings that have been converted to apartments, with a retail component and open green spaces, with townhomes to be added later
  • The Vault, an old bank building in Red Bank that has been converted to office space
  • Office buildings in Newark that have been converted to apartments: Walker House, Eleven 80

Building a whole new neighborhood on a large derelict site

Occasionally, a single property with a very large footprint—e.g. a factory complex, warehouse, golf course, suburban office park, or shopping mall—will become economically obsolete and go vacant, with little prospect of attracting new occupants. If the existing buildings don’t easily lend themselves to adaptive reuse, it may be more feasible for a developer to simply demolish the old land use entirely and treat the land as a clean slate for building what amounts to a whole new neighborhood. If done in the context of a surrounding environment that is largely car-dependent, this blank canvas can even present the opportunity to create a mixed-use town center in a municipality that previously lacked one, although such a situation can result in a self-contained pod of “modular urbanism” with limited connection to adjacent development. (Suburban, car-oriented land uses were often designed to have limited points of access to and from their surroundings, so connectivity can be difficult to weave in after the fact.) If done in the context of a surrounding street grid with good connectivity, the existing grid can be extended onto the redevelopment property, creating new vehicular and pedestrian connections and allowing for shorter local trips.

Some examples include:

  • Wesmont Station in Wood-Ridge transformed the site of a former Curtiss-Wright airplane factory into a new transit-oriented neighborhood, complete with a new NJ Transit commuter rail station
  • East Brunswick is planning to create a new town center on the site of an obsolete shopping center
  • The District at 1515 project in Parsippany will bring a mix of residential and retail uses, connected by a walkable internal street grid, to the site of a former office park

An empty General Motors plant in Ewing has been cleared to make way for the new Ewing Town Center

The common theme uniting these projects is reuse—reuse of buildings, reuse of land, reuse of infrastructure—which puts the “re-” in “redevelopment.” Any time new residents or businesses can be absorbed into a place that has already been developed—whether through adaptive changes to existing buildings or the construction of new buildings on land that was previously used for something else—this translates to undeveloped land in some other location that does not need to be urbanized to accommodate these residents and businesses, thereby slowing the rate at which New Jersey consumes its remaining open spaces. It also usually means the new development can take advantage of infrastructure that is already in place—roads, power lines, water and sewer pipes—avoiding the costs of extending infrastructure into undeveloped territory.

Redevelopment isn’t just about avoiding the costs associated with new development on previously-undeveloped land, however. It can often also represent an opportunity to make incremental improvements to the existing built environment in which a redevelopment project is situated, by updating the architectural features of an existing building, or introducing a building type or civic function that was previously lacking, or adding to the variety of the town’s housing stock, or creating pedestrian connections and amenities to make the neighborhood more walkable, or providing needed urban open space, or enabling more people to live near public transit and cut back on their driving and car ownership. And when a non-residential building is adapted to residential use, or a formerly industrial land use is cleared and replaced with new residential development, population growth can take place without displacing existing residents, which is often a concern in high-demand urban areas with no buildable land left. Redevelopment is a way to add new housing supply to built-up areas, helping to alleviate upward pressure on housing prices. It can accomplish population change via a net new addition, rather than by the replacement of long-time residents with new ones.

Whatever form it takes, redevelopment can simultaneously enhance livability for existing developed places while allowing other lands to remain undeveloped. Redevelopment will be an essential tool for New Jersey’s municipalities to make an economic comeback. New Jersey Future will continue to partner with towns across the state to create stronger and more integrated places.


1 The DEP data have been produced at irregular intervals since 1986, with data points for 1986, 1995, 2002, 2007, 2012, and 2015

2 Build-out percentage is computed as a ratio of developed acres to total developable acres, where developable land is the sum of 1) already-developed land and 2) undeveloped land that is still available for development. It answers the question “How much of what can be developed has been developed?” Acreage still available for development is estimated by researchers at Rowan and Rutgers universities by overlaying the DEP Land Use/Land Cover data with other data sources that describe lands that have been permanently preserved or are otherwise regulated and cannot be developed. “Available” lands are what remains when undevelopable lands and already-developed lands are both filtered out.

3 Among the data reference years for which DEP land use/land cover data were produced, 2007 comes closest to coinciding with the Great Recession.

Newark’s Lead Service Line Replacement Program is a Model for the Nation

June 12th, 2020 by Missy Rebovich

In 2017, the City of Newark, New Jersey, was facing a crisis: the third consecutive test of the city’s water exceeded the federal limit of 15 parts per billion for lead. Something had to be done. Where others may have been inclined to delay action or downplay the risks, Newark developed a plan that would not only drastically reduce exposure to lead in drinking water but serve as a national model for doing so.

Water Pipe Replacement

Water Pipe Replacement

Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, is home to 282,000 residents who are served by the City’s water system. In June 2017, testing revealed 22% of 129 samples of the City’s water exceeded the federal limit for lead. Since more than 10% of samples exceeded the federal threshold, the City had to inform its residents. As of May 2020, every six-month test since June 2017 has shown exceedances. 

The City attributes the source of the problem to failed corrosion control treatment (sodium silicate) at the Pequannock Water Treatment Plant, which supplies water to about half of the city. A new corrosion control treatment system using zinc orthophosphate was installed in May 2019. Water from the Wanaque Water Treatment Plant, which supplies water to the East and parts of the North and Central Wards, did not show signs of elevated lead levels.

In 2018, the City developed the first iteration of its LSL replacement program in which it set out to replace all 18,000 LSLs over eight years through a voluntary program. To fund the program, Newark enacted an ordinance authorizing the sale of $75 million in city bonds and a $12 million loan from the state’s Water Bank with up to $9 million in principal forgiveness. Residents could sign up to have their LSLs replaced at a cost of $1,000. Full replacements to remove the entire portion of the pipe running from the water main in the street to the house can cost up to $7,000. This version of the program received lackluster response in large part due to the cost imposed on the property owner.

Subsequently, in August 2019, Newark arranged a different financial package, securing a $120 million bond with help from the Essex County Improvement Authority which allowed the City to cover the full cost of the replacements and cut the timeframe for completion from eight years to under 36 months. A reworked lease agreement with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will bring in $155 million to service the debt on the bonds. This funding allowed the City to revamp its program so that there would not be a cost share for the property owners. 

While extensive community outreach for the updated program resulted in over 3,000 residents signing up for the program, the City still needed to be able to reach the property owners and obtain their permission in order to complete the work. With about 80% of the housing units in the city rentals, this proved difficult. In September 2019, Newark City Council passed an ordinance that made it mandatory for property owners to sign up for the program and empowered the City to enter a property to replace an LSL even if the owner did not sign up for the program. This ordinance became an example for the state when, in January 2020, Governor Murphy signed into law legislation that allows municipalities to adopt an ordinance to enter properties to replace LSLs without property owner permission, after notifying residents. 

In order to keep residents informed about the program, Newark developed a comprehensive website that outlines the program and keeps a running count of how many LSLs have been replaced. The website also has a tool for residents to learn the material of their service lines and to see where replacements have already happened in the city. This public database was welcomed by residents, many of whom felt they would not have received information about lead in their water from their landlords.

Residents are notified when their LSLs will be replaced, and once the work is complete, workers explain that filters provided through the program should be used until tests come back confirming that any lead jostled loose in the replacement has been removed. Within three to six months, residents automatically receive a testing kit to fill with water and return to the City. The City retained 120Water to develop a comprehensive communications program that would engage residents. The communications program emphasized outreach to children to make learning about water fun and included stickers, puzzles, and games.

WIth these two fundamental program changes—mandating LSL replacement regardless of property owner permission and offering LSL replacements at no cost to the property owner—the City of Newark is the first to implement the approach recommended by the Jersey Water Works Lead in Drinking Water Task Force. Kareem Adeem, Director of Newark’s Water and Sewer Department, served on the task force and was instrumental in explaining obstacles to LSL replacement and identifying practical solutions. 

Through the program, the City has been replacing LSLs at a rate of about 90 per day, slowing only briefly as the world recalibrated to confront the coronavirus pandemic. In March, when personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks and Tyvek suits, were in short supply, the City was able to rely on its database to determine which properties had already replaced the portion of the LSLs running from the edge of the property to the house—meaning that no interior work would be necessary—and focused on completing the work on those properties. Once PPE was available, crews of two workers conducted pre-construction interviews with residents to ensure anyone who was ill was isolated before performing any work. 

Early progress by the City kept work on track during the pandemic, and the halfway mark of 9,000 LSLs replaced was reached in April 2020. On May 6, the City announced that it had replaced 10,000 LSLs, putting the City well on its way to replace all its LSLs within 24 to 36 months of its start date on March 13, 2019. 

Newark’s remarkable progres demonstrates that LSL removal is not only possible, it’s within reach for communities across the state. New Jersey Future and other members of the Jersey Water Works Lead in Drinking Water Task Force have been working closely with the Murphy administration and members of the Legislature to require drinking water systems to adopt similar programs, which could virtually eliminate the risk of lead in drinking water in ten years.

Public-Private Partnerships Are a Valuable Tool for Expanding Housing

June 10th, 2020 by New Jersey Future staff

Author: Tom Kozma

New Jersey’s towns, like much of the nation’s, are experiencing a second once-in-a-lifetime economic downturn. In order to come back stronger, bold action is needed. However, for a town with ambitious visions of creating a vibrant downtown, high-quality housing, or an easy-to-navigate street network, the price can be daunting. There are many ways for municipalities to finance development, but a public-private partnership (P3) is a particularly versatile tool that offers a lot of potential. A P3 enlists private capital in pursuit of a public good, which could be roads, water systems, or housing. In exchange for shouldering the risk of financing the project and meeting agreed-upon standards, the private developer reaps much of the financial reward of the finished project. Such partnerships are not necessarily limited to municipal governments and for-profit corporations; they can also include nonprofits, individuals, or other levels of government.

On the federal level, the Department of Housing and Urban Development makes widespread use of P3s in its housing programs. The Housing Choice Voucher Program, commonly known as Section 8, is a partnership among HUD, local public housing authorities (PHAs), low-income renters, and private landlords. The PHA pays rental assistance to the landlord on behalf of the renting family, as long as the landlord maintains previously agreed upon quality standards. About 315,000 renters benefit from this arrangement in New Jersey. While most vouchers are used in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty and long waitlists are common, Section 8 still allows for greater social mobility by not concentrating low-income housing in public housing projects. The more recent Choice Neighborhoods Initiative is a P3 among HUD, nonprofits, developers, and local governments focused on rehabilitating and redeveloping entire communities.

P3s are growing on the state level, too. New Jersey authorized state and county colleges to enter into P3s in 2009, leading to a wave of development. Rutgers University, for instance, partnered with the New Brunswick Development Corporation to create mixed-use, transit-oriented development around the College Avenue area with high-rise apartments for over 600 students. Along with similar agreements with NJIT, Rowan University, Rider University, and The College of New Jersey, these types of projects typically involved construction of student housing, dining and retail near mass transit stops.

In 2018, Governor Murphy signed legislation expanding who can enter into P3s and for what reasons. The law now empowers towns, school districts, county and state agencies to create P3s. While the focus of the law is on infrastructure improvements, it can be applied to redevelopment of downtowns, revitalization of vacant properties, upzoning and infill development, and other municipal goals that could address local housing deficits.

At least one town has already taken advantage of P3s. In Somerdale, the property of the previous Our Lady of Grace Church and School lay vacant for about a decade; various actors in town considered and eventually dismissed purchasing and redeveloping it. The town ultimately executed a contract with private developers, Reserve at Grace Urban Renewal, LLC, to build a mixed-use downtown center including 83 mixed-income and mixed-age apartments. The local diocese was supportive of the effort and offered the borough a discount on the land, wanting to preserve the church’s importance to the community instead of having it decay or demolished. As part of the agreement, the town took ownership of the church building itself to guarantee its preservation, only leasing it to the developers. By purchasing the land, Somerdale was able to require certain conditions of the developers, such as discounted rent on 37 age-restricted units for Somerdale residents. The net cost to the borough? Zero.

The borough hopes that the new site, located in the center of town along the White Horse Pike, will serve as a new downtown. While the White Horse Pike is the town’s main commercial corridor, its status as a state highway could complicate the borough’s desire for a more walkable and pedestrian-oriented downtown.  

Like any strategy, P3s involve trade-offs. In exchange for providing the capital necessary for the project, private partners will usually require incentives such as management control or favorable costs. In other words, as private capital bears significant risk, it wants sufficient reward. A carrot-and-stick approach is often employed to hold developers accountable to the contract and make sure the project fits the town’s vision. Performance-based pay, for example, is designed to avoid scenarios in which the developer receives public subsidies, but the public gets little tangible benefit in return.

P3s are often more controversial, and have greater risks, when they involve vital infrastructure like water systems, schools, prisons, or other public services. When used for redevelopment, they can transform inefficient land uses like sprawling parking lots and abandoned buildings into attractive community assets with less risk to the public sector.

Successful P3s need transparency, public input, and oversight to work. When done right, a P3 can be a win-win-win scenario for the government, the public, and the developer. In Somerdale’s case, the local government recouped the cost of buying the land from the diocese when they sold it to Reserve at Grace Urban Renewal, LLC. The developer benefited from a lower cost of land than if it were acting alone. The public benefits from the construction of housing just a short stroll away from shops and a restaurant. And the community as a whole benefits because preservation of the decades-old church, which was a treasured local feature, was a key condition of the Reserve at Grace project.

While P3s may not be the perfect solution everywhere, they are a vital strategy in a local government’s toolbox for increasing housing options.

New Jersey Future, New Jersey Builders Association release updated Developers Green Infrastructure Guide

June 5th, 2020 by Kandyce Perry

New Jersey Future, in partnership with the New Jersey Builders Association, released the Developers Green Infrastructure Guide 2.0. The guide, specifically designed for the real estate sector including developers, builders, and their professional teams of engineers, landscape architects, planners, and architects, features detailed information and guidance on New Jersey’s amended stormwater rules.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection updated its stormwater rules, which take effect in March 2021, to mandate the use of green infrastructure practices to meet standards for water quality, groundwater recharge, and stormwater volume control. This new approach is a paradigm shift in New Jersey stormwater management. Developers, long frustrated by a subjective “maximum extent practicable” design standard, now have an objective standard that replaces pipes and storage basins with landscaping techniques that create multiple infiltration points, mimicking how nature deals with stormwater.

The changes to the stormwater rule represent a new phase in development and stormwater management, and the Developers Green Infrastructure Guide 2.0 was designed for just this reason. Specifically, developers can take advantage of the following features in the guide:

The Developers Green Infrastructure Guide 2.0 was launched with a webinar in May, a recording of which can be viewed here; the slides are available here. The webinar walks viewers through the new stormwater rules, solutions to incorporating green infrastructure under challenging site conditions, and answers viewers’ questions. The guide is available online at where a printable version is also available. A limited number of printed copies will be available at the Atlantic Builders Convention in Atlantic City, September 29 to October 1, 2020. Visit the Developers Green Infrastructure Task Force exhibit. The task force is a partnership between New Jersey Builders Association and New Jersey Future. To stay informed of future green infrastructure updates, connect with us here.

© New Jersey Future, 16 W. Lafayette St. • Trenton, NJ 08608 • Phone: 609-393-0008 • Fax: 609-360-8478

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