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Broadband for All: The Geography of Digital Equity in New Jersey

September 16th, 2020 by Kimberley Irby

Today, the internet is the medium through which people access healthcare, housing, employment, safety, and education. Access to the internet is an essential public good, as much as access to clean water, energy and transportation. Recent Census Bureau estimates indicate that 16-17% of households (about half a million) in New Jersey lack internet access. For New Jersey’s recovery from the pandemic to be successful, everyone should have the ability to access the internet at reasonable speeds with affordable prices regardless of their geography or income. 

Extent of the digital divide in New Jersey

Before the pandemic necessitated many to work or learn from home, the digital divide throughout the country was apparent in terms of geography, class, and race. In 2018, NJ Spotlight published an interactive map, featuring American Community Survey (ACS) 2013-2017 estimates, that revealed access issues in low-income urban and rural areas in New Jersey, similar to the rest of the nation. According to the data, people in fewer than 60 percent of households could go online in the cities of Perth Amboy, Salem, Bridgeton, Camden, and Trenton, whereas at least 95 percent of households had internet access in 17 wealthier communities in the north or central parts of the state. It is important to note that ACS data only provides estimates and current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) data conveys significant overestimates of internet coverage. To truly close the divide and achieve digital equity, it is important that we have the most up-to-date and accurate data possible.

What we can do about the digital divide in New Jersey

BroadbandNow claims that the two most effective ways state and local governments can improve their broadband situation are by: 1) creating better mapping and adopting smarter funding strategies and 2) promoting and encouraging community broadband solutions in low-competition areas. BroadbandNow further claims that both of these methods are at odds with the actions of dominant Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that have contributed to inflated measurements of internet speeds and competition at the federal level and fought against municipal broadband. Thus, it is critical to first understand where and what type of coverage is available in New Jersey. An effective way to do this is through a statewide broadband office, which can not only collect data, but also communicate, coordinate, plan, and fund. Although COVID-19 is resulting in slashed state budgets, we can still look to examples like New York, Minnesota, Illinois, and Georgia, for inspiration and guidance.

Community or municipal broadband refers to broadband internet access services that are provided either fully or partially by local governments. The benefit of municipal broadband, when done well, is that it provides high-speed internet with rates that are competitive with those of national ISPs. To date, no municipal networks exist in the state, but there is pending legislation (Assembly Bill A850) to create a “Community Broadband Study Commission” that would evaluate the feasibility of establishing community broadband networks. Public-private partnerships are another popular alternative for expanding access. In fact, some types of municipal broadband are achieved through these partnerships. In March 2020, another Assembly bill (A3649) was introduced that would require the Office of Information and Technology (OIT) to establish a statewide wireless network through a public-private partnership agreement, in which the private entity would assume responsibility for construction and cover some or all of the up-front costs. 

The future of the digital divide in New Jersey

Currently, other organizations in the region are working to assess the situation in more depth and recommend specific policies to enact. For example, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission is conducting a three-part study on broadband deployment and access throughout the Greater Philadelphia area. The first part, Discussing Technology, outlines broadband basics and deployment throughout the region. The upcoming second part, Understanding the Digital Divide, will cover the extent of the digital divide at the neighborhood level as well as its ramifications during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the third part, Bridging the Digital Divide, will feature policy recommendations.

From the data we currently have, despite the lack of precision, we know that New Jersey is one of the most highly wired states, if not the highest, in the nation. Thus, it’s within our reach to become the first state to actually achieve full broadband coverage. Given how critical internet access is to quality of life and equitable, inclusive communities, closing the digital divide should be a priority for New Jersey as it recovers from the economic damage of the pandemic. If our government commits to obtaining updated data and exploring solutions for the communities most in need, we can cement our status as a broadband leader and prove that digital equity is integral to New Jersey’s future.

See the full analysis here.


The Black-White Homeownership Gap in New Jersey

September 16th, 2020 by Tim Evans

A recent study by the real-estate firm Redfin has brought attention to the gap in homeownership rates between white and Black households. While homeownership is not necessarily the right choice for everyone, there are reasons to care about it, beyond simply putting a roof over one’s head. Homeownership is one of American households’ primary means of building wealth, because a home is the most valuable asset that most families own, and home values tend to appreciate over time. And the gap between white and Black homeownership rates indicates that this path is not necessarily equally open to everybody.

The homeownership rate for Black households in New Jersey, at 41.0 percent, lags almost 36 percentage points behind the homeownership rate for non-Hispanic white households (76.9 percent). The gap at the national level is nearly as large: 41.4 percent of Black households nationwide own their homes, compared to 72.1 percent of non-Hispanic white households.

Homeownership rates for black and non-hispnanic white households by county

County-level analysis in New Jersey indicates that homeownership rates for Black households tend to be highest — and tend to lag white homeownership rates by the smallest amounts — in places like Hunterdon, Sussex, and Warren counties that have high homeownership rates overall. (See Figure 1.) These places also tend to have small Black populations, however. They also tend to have housing stocks that have few options for renters, meaning that most households that can afford the price of entry — irrespective of race — are going to be homeowners by default. Such places price out more non-white households than white ones, since non-white household incomes tend to be lower (in New Jersey, median household income for white households is $85,423; for Black households, it is $51,309). In these counties, a relatively high Black homeownership rate is not necessarily the good news that it superficially appears, being more a function of a small denominator (few Black households overall) than of a large numerator (large numbers of Black homeowners).

Results at the municipal level are more informative. Here, the smallest disparities between the Black and non-Hispanic white homeownership rates tend to be found in places with low homeownership overall, the reverse of what was true at the county level. Hudson County was an exception to the broader county pattern, with a relatively small gap between Black and white homeownership rates but with low homeownership rates for all races. But the pattern in Hudson County turns out to be more typical of the municipalities where most of the state’s Black households live, with more diverse housing stocks, more diverse populations, and greater numbers of renters. It is also true that these places with smaller Black/white homeownership disparities and higher Black population percentages tend to have lower home values, hinting at the lingering effects of past discriminatory practices—redlining, restrictive covenants, racial steering by real estate agents, as well as the ongoing phenomenon of exclusionary zoning—cited by the Redfin study as contributing to the homeownership gap. Having been effectively excluded from whole sections of the state, non-wealthy, non-white households end up concentrating in a relatively small number of places with more diverse housing stocks but where values tend to be low. 

The geographic patterns of disparity between white and Black homeownership rates are not an accident; they are the artifact of a history of racial discrimination and segregation that New Jersey needs to confront. Understanding where – and why – the disparities are greatest or lowest can point toward housing strategies that can expand opportunities for everyone, putting New Jersey on a path toward becoming a more equitable and inclusive state. 

See the full analysis here.

Greening the Garden State: These Three Towns Show You How! 

September 15th, 2020 by Andrew Tabas

Green streets aren’t just for big cities like Philadelphia. They can help smaller cities like Camden and Hoboken and towns like Highland Park to meet flooding and stormwater challenges while providing community benefits. Camden, Hoboken, and Highland Park chose to use green streets strategies because they protect public health, improve water quality, manage stormwater runoff, reduce flood damage, provide social gathering spaces, and make municipalities more beautiful places to live, work, and play. While traditional streets use grey infrastructure such as pipes and gutters to transport stormwater, green streets use green infrastructure such as street trees and rain gardens to capture and treat stormwater at its source. Jersey Water Works and EPA Region 2 recently released New Jersey Green Streets Case Studies to spread awareness about green streets and their many benefits. 

Trainees and volunteers during installation of Waterfront South rain gardens in Camden, New Jersey

Trainees and volunteers during installation of Waterfront South rain gardens in Camden, New Jersey

Camden built a rain garden at the site of an old gas station to solve two public health challenges: combined sewer overflows and environmental contamination.

Since Camden has a combined sewer system, heavy rainfall can make sewers overflow and release untreated sewage into roads and waterways. Camden’s new rain garden captures stormwater, reducing the strain that storms put on the sewer system.

The old gas station was a brownfield site that leaked contaminants. As part of the construction of the rain garden, the builders removed contaminated materials, reducing these risks for the community. In addition, the project brought career development benefits to the community, as it incorporated training for landscapers and 300 young PowerCorps participants. “We created the PowerCorps Camden program to give jobs to at-risk Camden youth to maintain the rain gardens and parks, providing them with a job, a credential, life skills training, and future job placement,” says Andy Kricun, the former executive director of the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority. “This can be replicated wherever a water utility seeks to be an anchor institution in their community, and to maximize benefit to the residents they serve.” The project is part of a larger project to build three riverfront parks and dozens of rain gardens across the city. The Camden rain garden was made possible by the Community Collaborative Initiative from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

Rain garden with curb bump-out installed as part of Highland Park streetscape improvements.

Rain garden with curb bump-out installed as part of Highland Park streetscape improvements.

Hoboken successfully transformed its main street, Washington Street, into a green street by building 15 rain gardens. The move will help to mitigate local flooding, a major issue for the city’s residents. Each rain garden can hold from 3,700 to 26,000 gallons of rainwater. Once secured in the rain garden, the water can infiltrate into the ground and replenish local groundwater instead of contributing to flooding. The rain gardens bring additional benefits to the community as well: they make Washington Street more attractive, increase accessibility for pedestrians through shorter crosswalks, and moderate the speed of traffic. Hoboken used two best practices to make sure that its project would be a success. First, after experiencing maintenance issues in previous rain gardens, Hoboken made a detailed maintenance manual and hired a contractor who is capable of keeping up maintenance to ensure that the rain gardens continue to absorb stormwater. Second, Hoboken used regular public meetings to keep the community informed and to build buy-in.

Bench installed as part of the Highland Park streetscape project.

Bench installed as part of the Highland Park streetscape project.

Highland Park, a smaller community near the Raritan River, included green streets in its streetscape initiative on Raritan Avenue and the intersecting 3rd, 4th, and 5th avenues. The streetscape program improved the experience of pedestrians in the town by turning ordinary streets into “outdoor living rooms” with rain gardens and public benches. Along the way, Highland Park learned the critical lesson that it is necessary to train staff properly when maintaining a living system. Inexperienced staff can accidentally remove native plants instead of weeds. Despite this challenge, Highland Park’s leaders are glad that the community has put green infrastructure at the forefront. “Highland Park jumped at the opportunity to incorporate more environmentally-friendly infrastructure into our downtown streetscape design more than a decade ago,” said Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler. “The now well-established rain gardens add an attractive backdrop to our outdoor living rooms on corners of our main street, making our downtown a destination and vibrant gathering place for residents and visitors.” 

The Jersey Water Works Green Infrastructure Committee and EPA Region 2 partnered to develop these case studies with help from local officials from Camden, Hoboken, and Highland Park. Jersey Water Works is committed to mainstreaming the implementation of green infrastructure throughout New Jersey. Our Green Streets in New Jersey Portfolio has additional examples of successful cases of green infrastructure. Has your town implemented a green street? Email Andrew Tabas  (atabasatnjfuturedotorg)   to connect. 

Meet our 2020 Summer Interns!

September 15th, 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.

Yash Bajaj

Yash Bajaj

The George Washington University

Field of Study: International Affairs, Economics

This summer, I had the pleasure of working with New Jersey Future’s Community Outreach Manager Mo Kinberg and the Jersey Water Works Combined Sewer Outflow Committee. I worked on developing an inventory of the existing water workforce training programs in New Jersey that would prepare residents of communities with combined sewer systems to be eligible for employment in the water workforce sector. I researched local training providers and organizations as well as the future of employment opportunities in the water and wastewater industries. I also attended online meetings and webinars discussing green infrastructure programs, solutions for CSOs, and Long Term Control Plans for municipalities. I wrote blog posts summarizing the information from online events so that stakeholders in the state have an understanding of solutions and strategies that will prevent stormwater runoff and also include community engagement. 

During my internship, I developed a better understanding of the issues related to stormwater management and why it will be important to incorporate green infrastructure solutions into any infrastructure plan. I was also able to improve upon my research, communication, and writing skills. I am thankful for the opportunity and look forward to continue to learn about sustainability and green solutions in New Jersey.

Leah Henk

Leah Henk

University: Bucknell University

Field of Study: Environmental Engineering

Working in the field of policymaking this summer was really interesting! I worked on a few different projects relating to lead in drinking water. I did a lot of research on the disclosure of lead pipes in rental units in other states. This information was then presented to the Jersey Water Works Lead in Drinking Water Task Force. This involved networking in the policymaking field. I also worked alongside New Jersey Future Policy Analyst Kimberly Irby to draft a statewide communications plan for lead work in New Jersey. Lastly, I did research in lead disclosure in home-child care facilities. All of this work was done under the guidance of New Jersey Future Policy Manager Gary Brune.

From this position, I learned what it took to actually get policies enacted. I also learned more about how to effectively communicate with others and how to efficiently get a point across. I am very thankful for this opportunity and am reassured that pursuing public policy as a minor was the right decision for me.

Sasha Culley

Sasha Culley

Princeton University

Field of Study: Economics and Environmental Studies

Through the Princeton RISE program, I worked on a data visualization project for Jersey Water Works (JWW) that is creating flooding impact maps overlaid with demographic data on race, income, and other vulnerability and resilience measures. My work focused on the consequences of combined sewer overflows (CSOs), a phenomenon which most acutely threatens the public health of communities of color. I gathered demographic and flood-specific data for future analysis and supported the flood mapping project by researching economic disparities within the context of water infrastructure. I analyzed the results to inform JWW member action and policy recommendations on the inextricably linked environmental and racial justice implications of CSO investment. The analysis and consequent maps will aid the identification of environmental justice hotspots and help effectively direct investment in equitable and sustainable water infrastructure solutions. I am thankful to New Jersey Future, Jersey Water Works and my supervisor, New Jersey Future Program Coordinator Lauren Belsky, who granted me insight into the complex challenges of water infrastructure and allowed me to contribute to such a purposeful project. 

Will StocovazWill Stocovaz

Princeton University

Field of Study: Public and International Affairs

This summer I worked as a data collections and analysis intern at New Jersey Future, gathering and analyzing data pertaining to systemic poverty and racial segregation in New Jersey. Utilizing census data spanning a decade, I looked for prevalent trends and compared the results to other states. With the guidance of New Jersey Future Director of Research Tim Evans, I created summaries of key metrics used to identify poverty levels and match them with demographic shifts, establishing concrete evidence for a link between poverty and race in New Jersey. These patterns point to the ways in which local land-use decisions, especially about housing, reinforce and perpetuate racial and economic segregation in New Jersey.  

This internship experience has improved many skills including my MS Excel proficiency, data analysis, time management, and research efficiency.

New Jersey Future Launches the New Jersey Stormwater Utilities Resource Center

September 4th, 2020 by New Jersey Future staff

New Jersey Future developed a new one-of-a-kind tool to help localities determine if a stormwater utility is right for their communities. The New Jersey Stormwater Utilities Resource Center  is a one-stop-shop, housing technical legal and financial information, case studies, and helpful guidance on stormwater solutions, community process, and public engagement. Development of the resource center was guided by local engineers, utilities, attorneys, government officials, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection staff, and the Flood Defense Coalition, to ensure that it addresses local needs. 

It is no secret that New Jersey communities are experiencing stronger storms and greater rainfall than ever before, leading to increased flooding, pollution, and property damage. Citing over 50 years of data, the National Climate Assessment observed a 71% increase in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy storm events in the northeastern United States. Echoing these findings, in 2018, New Jersey experienced its highest amount of rainfall on record. Corresponding stormwater issues continue to worsen, and localities are seeking cost-effective solutions to give their residents more peace of mind when it rains.

Stormwater utilities can help. In fact, over 1,700 communities, across 40 different states in the US, have created them. In March 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law the Clean Stormwater and Flood Reduction Act, which gives local government entities the ability to establish stormwater utilities if they so choose. If established, stormwater utilities must collect fees based on the amount of stormwater a property generates. These utilities can be established municipalities, counties, groups of municipalities, and sewerage and improvement authorities. Fee revenue would be dedicated solely to stormwater management and could not be used for any other purposes, ensuring that the negative impacts of stormwater can be addressed.  

Nearby states, such as Pennsylvania and Delaware have experienced firsthand the positive impacts of employing a stormwater utility. Wilmington, DE Department of Public Works Commissioner Kelly Williams attributes vast improvements to establishing a stormwater utility: “By establishing a stormwater utility, Wilmington was able to directly address its stormwater issues while equitably distributing the cost of compliance and watershed protection. Without the utility, we would be struggling to give stormwater the priority it deserves.” Creating a utility can ensure a stronger, healthier, and safer community that rests easier when it rains.

To learn more and to stay informed about developments in stormwater utilities, connect with us here. For any questions about the resource center, or stormwater utilities in general, please feel free to contact Brianne Callahan  (bcallahanhatnjfuturedotorg)  .

A Guide to Diversifying Housing Options for an Aging Population

August 11th, 2020 by New Jersey Future staff

A new report by New Jersey Future, Municipal Strategies to Diversify Housing Stock for an Aging Population: A Case Study Report, is part of New Jersey Future’s Creating Great Places to Age program. The program grew out of New Jersey Future’s 2014 report, Creating Places To Age in New Jersey, which identified a mismatch between where many older New Jerseyans are living and the land use characteristics that actually make a place “aging-friendly.” Subsequent work has focused on identifying places with aging-friendly land use patterns (compactness, mixed-use downtowns, a walkable street grid) and assessing their ability to accommodate older residents, especially in terms of whether they provide the types of housing options that older people are likely to want as they seek to downsize.

In line with the zoning policies of most municipalities in New Jersey, a disproportionate amount of housing in most non-urban communities is designated for one family and tends to be built on large lots. This pattern of development, while ideal for some, incentivizes development of large homes, excludes residents with lower incomes, and limits the options for older residents. Older New Jerseyans, who are more likely to be housing cost-burdened than older residents in any other state, stand to benefit from more housing options. But they aren’t the only residents who would benefit. Diversifying housing options benefits residents of all ages by creating compact and sustainable mixed-use and pedestrian-oriented downtowns; and by promoting mixed-income, multimodal, and mixed-age neighborhoods that are engaging and vibrant. New Jersey’s high-cost housing market has been restrictive for residents of all ages. It has impeded Millennials as they hope to move out and start families, as well as retiring Baby Boomers who want smaller and less expensive homes that are easier to maintain.

The report outlines some of the strategies that municipalities can adopt to accommodate a wider range of housing. While these options are particularly helpful for meeting the needs of older residents, they can serve people of all ages. Case studies in the report describe how five municipalities throughout New Jersey have each implemented a strategy, providing a roadmap for other local governments or advocates. To formulate the report, New Jersey Future compiled a limited list of municipalities that have implemented some kind of strategy that resulted in more types of housing options being built or permitted. Although the list is not inclusive of all strategies implemented by all New Jersey municipalities, it demonstrates that towns are capable of implementing a variety of strategies in a variety of ways that are suitable to their needs. A table of towns and strategies is included in the appendix.

The report concludes with some implications for interested municipalities and housing advocates. For example, one indicator of success appears to be municipal engagement with local residents. Inclusive planning and implementation can help towns enjoy greater public support. Additionally, in some cases, municipal actions were supported by the state through grants and technical assistance, particularly when the state and the municipality both embraced smart growth goals—growth strategies that favor redevelopment of existing built environments, reliance on public transit, preservation of natural areas and ecosystems, and equitable, safe communities for all residents. Although local governments determine most land use decisions under the Municipal Land Use Law, state policy has an important role to play in how those decisions are made. State legislation could require municipalities to permit multifamily housing, as Oregon did in 2019.1 To concentrate development near mass transit, the state could require multifamily housing and mixed-use near transit, similar to proposals in the California legislature that ban single-family detached zoning near transit and make the minimum required density a fourplex.2 Both states also have enacted laws allowing the construction of accessory dwelling units statewide. Municipalities hoping to create sustainable and attractive communities cannot ignore the need for a more diversified and increased housing stock, or else they risk losing residents who comprise the workforce, tax base, and consumer activity that supports local economies.3 

Main Street – North Brunswick, New Jersey (Google Maps)


1 Slate, 2019, “Legalize It.”

2 Los Angeles Times, 2018, “Get ready for a lot more housing near the Expo Line and other California transit stations if new legislation passes.”

3 AARP, “The Longevity Economy Outlook.”

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

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