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Creating Aging-Friendly Communities Through Municipal Actions and Partnerships

June 25th, 2021 by Bailey Lawrence

While responding to the unique needs of older adults, the cultivation of aging-friendly municipalities can also benefit community members across all age groups. At the Creating Aging-Friendly Communities Through Municipal Actions and Partnerships session at the 2021 New Jersey Planning and Redevelopment Conference, aging-friendly advocates and local officials expressed the importance of aging-friendly communities and described strategies for making municipalities more inclusive for older adults.

According to New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well Executive Director Cathy Rowe, in many New Jersey communities the number of retired people will “exceed the number of students in the school system” sometime after 2030. This is the case in South Orange, where local officials were motivated to respond to such demographic trends, as well as the concerns of older residents. These concerns are sometimes neglected, especially when local officials focus on attracting younger individuals and reinvigorating downtown areas, according to Borough of Pompton Lakes Council President Erik DeLine.

Nonetheless, all speakers at the session emphasized that the needs and interests of older adults and younger people are not mutually exclusive. In fact, according to AARP New Jersey Associate State Director, Advocacy Katie York, “like many facets of age-friendly work, improved built environments can benefit all ages.”

Similarly, New Jersey Future Community Planning Manager Tanya Rohrbach said that establishing aging-friendly communities “helps to create community-wide benefits, uses resources more efficiently, and fosters community building.”

Additionally, efforts to improve the built environment for all community members can produce significant benefits for older adults. According to DeLine, prior to making a conscious effort to become an aging-friendly community, Pompton Lakes had already worked to expand local grocery store access, increase green space, and establish walkable streets. While enhancing the general community’s livability, these initiatives also helped respond to the financial, health, and safety concerns of the municipality’s older adults.

“Some of the things you’re doing can be aging-friendly, even if you’re not explicitly thinking about it,” DeLine said.

Building aging-friendly communities is especially important, according to Rohrbach, because of the failures of “aging in place” to address home design, cost, maintenance, and social isolation. “Aging in community,” on the other hand, promotes social engagement, mobility, and physical and mental wellbeing, all of which can be experienced as a result of an optimized built environment. According to Rohrbach, the built environment’s potential benefits can be maximized by implementing compact development, constructing walkable street grids, and providing a diversity of housing options.

The achievements of South Orange and Pompton Lakes are reflective of an increasing statewide commitment to aging-friendly communities. New Jersey recently became the ninth state to join the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities and States. 

All speakers at the session highlighted the impact of collaboration between local community groups and municipal governments. “Great places don’t make themselves or happen by chance. We have to be proactive, and a big part of that includes municipal action,” Rohrbach said. In November 2020, New Jersey Future (NJF) published Creating Great Places to Age in New Jersey: A Community Guide to Implementing Aging-Friendly Land Use Decisions in order to support the state’s municipalities in their efforts to foster aging-friendly communities. 

NJF also conducted an aging-friendly land use assessment in Pompton Lakes, which helped the municipality identify the need for an amplified diversity of housing options, according to DeLine. DeLine said that, according to the municipality’s findings, more than half of its 65-and-older residents were cost-burdened. In order to more effectively engage in aging-friendly work, Pompton Lakes hired an aging-friendly coordinator. Furthermore, DeLine said that the municipality is seeking to amend its accessory dwelling unit ordinance in order to provide a greater array of affordable housing options.

Meanwhile, South Orange supported its aging-friendly work by developing a new master plan, which is the “most comprehensive and inclusive” New Jersey master plan to date, according to Rowe. Community engagement and participation, especially among older residents, were crucial throughout the process of establishing South Orange’s master plan. According to Rowe, the municipality held more than 46 separate engagement events (three of which were organized for older residents, specifically) and facilitated online engagement efforts.

“The best plans or the best policies really [mean] nothing if people don’t know about [them]. It was important for us to get the word out and keep people constantly informed,” Rowe said.

Community Benefits Agreements: Understanding the New Requirement and How to Create a Win-Win

June 25th, 2021 by Kimberley Irby

Given that Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) are built into the structure of the New Jersey Economic Recovery Act, which was signed into law in January 2021, it is no longer a question of if they will happen, but when they will happen. This is what Kelvin Boddy, Director of Healthy Homes and Communities at the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, explained during the Community Benefits Agreements: Understanding the New Requirement and How to Create a Win-Win session at the 2021 New Jersey Planning and Redevelopment Conference. The session featured explanations of what CBAs are, how they are incorporated in the new law, and best practices for ensuring successful ones. 


What are CBAs and what types of benefits can they include?

CBAs are “legally binding agreements that relate to a single development and apply to all parties that deliver on it, including developers, contractors, and future tenants,” according to Ben Beach, Legal Director at the Partnership for Working Families, which hosts the Community Benefits Law Center. Ebony Griffin, Staff Attorney at The Public Interest Law Center, added that CBAs are enforceable contractual agreements between a community group and a developer or corporation that describe the project’s contributions to the community and generate community support for the project. Potential benefits include living wages and benefits, targeted and fair-chance hiring, affordable housing, environmental mitigation, small business support, and community services (e.g., grocery stores, public art, meeting spaces, health clinics, and/or workforce development).


What is important to know about the requirement in the Economic Recovery Act?

“New Jersey is the first state in the country to require CBAs in a statewide tax incentive program,” said Brian Sabina, Chief Economic Growth Officer at the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA). Dr. Robert Silverman, a professor within the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Buffalo, emphasized that this institutionalization of CBAs at a state level represents a “sea change in terms of how CBAs fit into the development process.” Having such a framework will increase predictability in the development process for developers, community groups, and local governments.

Mr. Sabina explained that, for two flagship programs established by the Economic Recovery Act (Emerge and Aspire), CBAs are required for projects with total upfront project costs of $10 million or more and will constitute a tri-party agreement between a business, a municipality or county (the negotiator), and NJEDA (the reviewer). Additionally, the governing body of the municipality or county must set up at least one community engagement session prior to finalizing the CBA. Then, after entering into a CBA, the municipality/county executive must appoint a Community Advisory Committee, which will have at least three community members to monitor implementation and report progress to NJEDA annually.


What are best practices for CBAs?

Ben Beach provided three core principles that are necessary for an effective CBA: accountability, meaningful benefit, and democratic participation. Other panelists agreed that for a CBA to be successful, the terms should be specific and measurable, easily implemented, and effectively monitored and enforced. They also agreed that the benefits must meet real community needs, especially for communities that are not only directly impacted, but are generally excluded from economic development opportunities, as well. Ebony Griffin emphasized the importance of this, demonstrating through a case study that if this is not achieved, the developer may not receive the public support needed for a profitable project. In terms of democratic participation, Beach indicated the need for broad representative community involvement and the application of a racial equity lens to the entire process, both in terms of participation and outcomes. Griffin supported this, maintaining that an inclusive and transparent process is a guiding principle. Ultimately, effective CBAs require substantial community organizing and engagement to provide communities with a legitimate opportunity to bring their needs forward.


What’s next?

For community development groups, Boddy claims that there is no reason to wait for projects to pop up to start preparing communities for them. The Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey is already in the process of integrating CBAs into its programs. It will host trainings, as well as a workshop, at its October conference to educate its member groups about the legal requirements, navigating the process, and preparing residents to advocate and negotiate for sustainable changes.

CBAs, when done well, can serve as a powerful tool for equitable development and redevelopment, simultaneously addressing community needs and providing broad support for the developer’s project. The Economic Recovery Act provides a new framework that may lead the way to making successful CBAs more common in New Jersey. 

Two Homes, One Roof: Making NJ More Welcoming with ADUs

June 25th, 2021 by Tim Evans

Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are an often overlooked and underutilized solution to the affordable housing shortage we face in New Jersey and across the Northeast. An ADU can be built as a separate dwelling unit in the backyard of a detached home on a single-family lot, or can be created from existing space by converting a garage, basement, or attic, or can be built as a self-contained addition onto an existing single-family home.

At the 2021 New Jersey Planning & Redevelopment Conference, co-hosted by New Jersey Future and the New Jersey Chapter of the American Planning Association, a session entitled Two Homes, One Roof: Making NJ More Welcoming with ADUs discussed the importance of ADUs and their potential as a strategy for increasing the state’s housing options. Speakers included Nat Bottigheimer, New Jersey Director of the Regional Plan Association, Dean Dafis, Deputy Mayor of Maplewood Township, Christine Newman, Director of Community Outreach at AARP New Jersey, Mia Sacks, Councilwoman for the Municipality of Princeton, and Julia Stoumbos, Director of the “Aging in Place” program at the Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation.

Nat Bottigheimer talked about the Regional Plan Association’s July 2020 report Be My Neighbor, which outlined strategies to create more homes and emphasized how valuable ADUs can be for seniors who want to age in place, families who’d like to earn extra income from their home, and anyone who cannot afford a single-family home. Julia Stoumbos seconded the point about seniors, noting how ADUs can help solve many of the challenges that confront people seeking to remain in their community as they age. “The prohibitive cost of maintaining a home is one of the most commonly mentioned challenges in surveys of older people,” she said. Moving into an ADU reduces the responsibilities for maintenance, and also reduces or eliminates the need to pay property taxes, which Stoumbos cited as another frequent obstacle to aging in place for older people no longer earning a steady income.

Christine Newman talked about the surging growth in the 65+ population, as the Baby Boomers age into retirement, and the need for housing markets to adjust to this reality. Adults living alone (including a substantial number of older people) now account for 30% of all households, but Newman observed that “housing markets remain fixated on the ‘nuclear family’ household and the single-family-detached house. We need to expand our imagination, in terms of the types of housing units we build.” She said we need to rediscover how to include ADUs in our housing stock, along with many other types of “missing middle” housing that were common up through the 1940s.

A major obstacle to ADUs is that local zoning often does not allow them. How do we change that? Maplewood and Princeton have each made progress promoting diverse and inclusive housing, and Mia Sacks and Dean Dafis each talked about how they shifted public opinion in favor of needed zoning changes in their respective towns. Both local leaders observed that the best way to sell ADUs to the public is to describe them as a way to help older residents age in place. Sacks said she even used her own mother as an example of how ADUs can enable seniors to continue paying their property taxes. Newman echoed the importance of getting local residents to tell their stories, saying that “personal stories are key for community engagement and buy-in, especially when it comes to NIMBY-ism (Not In My Back Yard). They reframe the conversation from ‘they/them’ to ‘us/we’.”

For towns that are open to allowing ADUs, Newman said that AARP has a model local ordinance that towns can use as a guide. As another resource for building support for such an ordinance, she also pointed to AARP’s 2019 report The ABCs of ADUs, which provides a primer for communities interested in better understanding how ADUs support Age-Friendly Community Building.

But Dafis said municipal leaders need state laws to support their efforts to make ADUs available to everybody who needs them. The panelists agreed that they wished public sentiment were more open to offering opportunities to the many kinds of people that could benefit from living in an ADU, not just older people who already live in town. Dafis said a major challenge is overcoming existing residents’ stated concerns about “changing the character of the community,” language he said harkens back to the country’s ugly history of redlining, in terms of using housing laws to keep out certain kinds of people. Bottigheimer commented that Connecticut recently passed a law that bans the use of “character” in local land-use ordinances unless the town can quantify what it means by that term. A similar bill in New Jersey that permitted ADUs “as of right” might help to undo the state’s status as one of the most segregated in the country. 

Geography of Equity and Inclusion: The Big Picture

June 24th, 2021 by Bailey Lawrence

Spatial segregation persists across the United States and continues to result in economic, educational, and health disparities. Nonetheless, according to several planning professionals and activists, equitable approaches, processes, and strategies can help mitigate spatial segregation in New Jersey. At the 2021 New Jersey Planning and Redevelopment Conference, the Geography of Equity and Inclusion: The Big Picture plenary session featured five panelists, including Smart Growth America President and CEO Calvin Gladney, Latino Action Network President Christian Estevez, Fair Share Housing Center Deputy Director Eric Dobson, Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Renae Reynolds, and David Troutt, Professor of Law and Founding Director of the Rutgers Center on Law, Inequality and Metropolitan Equity (CLiME), Rutgers University. The panel was moderated by New Jersey Future Executive Director Peter Kasabach, and opening remarks were delivered by New Jersey Future Board Members: Cooper’s Ferry Partnership Vice President Meishka Mitchell, AICP, PP, City of Hoboken Director of Community Development Christopher Brown, and Maraziti Falcon LLP Partner Joseph Maraziti.

The speakers provided an overview of spatial segregation in New Jersey, while analyzing the origins of these disparities. 

“New Jersey is one of the most diverse states, but it is also one of the most segregated states,” Dobson said. In fact, according to Gladney, “we are getting more segregated year after year” in New Jersey and across the country.

Gladney emphasized that spatial segregation was deliberately established and continues to be purposefully maintained. “It’s not a bug in the system,” Gladney said. “It’s a feature of the system to churn out inequity.” These features include single-family zoning, interstate highways, and redlining. 

Such planning decisions, according to Reynolds, have “left communities bifurcated by highways and suffocated by the pollution that comes from the transportation sector.”

Troutt said that, as professionals in the planning field, we must study and act upon these instances of institutional harm, rather than merely acknowledging them in passing. For example, Brown explained that Hoboken’s Master Plan considered how the city’s zoning has motivated the proliferation of larger and more expensive dwellings.

Spatial segregation has important implications for opportunities and health outcomes, and its manifestations may appear in virtually every facet of New Jerseyans’ daily lives.

“Where you live and where you were born can dictate your access to open space, clean drinking water,” and other life necessities, Mitchell said. 

During his keynote presentation, Gladney explained that low-income units are being built increasingly further away from transit access across the country, and New Jersey is especially reflective of this trend. On the other hand, the walkability of poor New Jersey neighborhoods is much greater than that of other states’ poorer neighborhoods.

Furthermore, Gladney demonstrated that, in many cities in the United States, the hottest areas are located in the poorest neighborhoods. In many cases, these are the same neighborhoods that were redlined nearly a century ago. Climate change and rising temperatures will disproportionately impact these neighborhoods, which did not receive sufficient investments in the form of tree canopies and porous and/or reflective pavement. Communities most vulnerable to increasing flooding are disportionately the homes of poorer people, as well, Gladney said.

However, the speakers described ongoing initiatives that seek to inhibit spatial segregation and prescribed tactics that conference attendees can utilize in their own communities.

For example, Maraziti emphasized the importance of negotiating community benefits agreements, which can help foster more equitable neighborhoods.

In terms of the transportation sector, Reynolds discussed the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s efforts to expand the times of transit service, increase access to New Jersey’s trails, and generate connections from “rails to trails.”

“The pandemic brought to light the need for more access to green space,” Reynolds said.

The speakers also outlined strategies in the housing realm that may help combat spatial segregation. Dobson urged urban jurisdictions—especially cities in which gentrification is an intensifying threat—to more consciously implement inclusionary zoning. In Hoboken, for example, the City is adjusting the zoning code to promote housing diversity and affordability, Brown said.

Nonetheless, both Dobson and Estevez acknowledged that it will take decades to truly achieve residential desegregation. Estevez said that, in the meantime, communities must work to expand access to equitable education. Through its ongoing legal efforts, the Latino Action Network is attempting to “realize the promise of Brown” and produce “[really] integrated schools, and then hopefully housing that follows.”

Many of the speakers acknowledged this historical moment as a unique opportunity to effect substantive change and provided effective strategies to conceptualize and evaluate equity.

During this “age of equity,” said Troutt, we must “recognize that the Mt. Laurel doctrine is really about affirmative aspirations. It’s not just about the least that we can do, but the most that we can think about doing.” In order to achieve equitable outcomes, analysis must help formulate “specific equity targets,” and practitioners must engage in “serious compliance, reconciliation, and accountability,” Troutt said.

“We have to make decisions [and] investments with equity in mind” and “centering racially equitable outcomes and fixing racial disparities as the core” of decision-making, Gladney said.

Water, Water Everywhere—Achilles Heel or Asset?

June 24th, 2021 by Missy Rebovich

Water is essential for life, but the infrastructure that brings it into our homes—or keeps it out of our basements—is only considered when something goes wrong. At the 2021 New Jersey Planning & Redevelopment Conference session Water, Water Everywhere—Achilles Heel or Asset? panelists discussed why water can no longer be treated as an add-on issue to which communities simply react. Moderated by Chris Sturm, managing director, policy and water at New Jersey Future, the session featured George Hawkins, founder and CEO of Moonshot Missions; Jennifer Gonzales, director of environmental services, City of Hoboken; Meishka Mitchell, vice president, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership; and Lisa J. Plevin, executive director, New Jersey Highlands Council. 

One way to infuse consideration of water into planning and decision-making is by local ordinance. Hawkins explained how Washington, D.C. changed its development and redevelopment ordinance to highlight stormwater capture in response to increasing flooding during rainstorms. “This started 10 years ago and has gotten stronger over time. You must capture in a new project or a redevelopment project 1.2 inches of rainfall on site. That’s required to get your permit to do the redevelopment. But flexibility is built in, so if you can’t do it on-site, there’s a mitigation bank, like a wetland mitigation bank, but for green infrastructure.” 

Developers encountering site constraints to green infrastructure can pay into the fund, which allows the District Department of Environment to construct green infrastructure elsewhere with the same criteria. The bank creates a marketplace to ensure green infrastructure is generated by all new development.  

In the New Jersey Highlands, municipalities are required by state law to update their master plans in conformance with the Highlands regional master plan. “Protecting water resources in the Highlands region is critical,” said Plevin.  “Because, while the region makes up less than 20% of the population of our state, it is the source of drinking water for over 70% of the state’s residents.”

Plevin noted that “clean, plentiful water is really important; however, municipalities are often focused on their own local boundaries and not on watershed boundaries.” That’s why the New Jersey Highlands Council works closely with the region’s municipalities and counties to ensure local plans are developed in ways that maximize water resource protection. 

In Hoboken, an urban coastal city with a combined sewer system, local leadership is acutely aware of the importance of stormwater management. In order to leverage capital, Gonzalez explained, the City looks to multi-benefit projects. For example, Hoboken’s Washington Street Redesign project—which won a New Jersey Future Smart Growth Award in 2020—involved replacing drinking water infrastructure across 15 blocks of the city. This work allowed the City to install complete streets upgrades at the same time, installing four green/gray infrastructure projects involving porous pavement and underground detention basins in the public right-of-way.

“We employ a One Water approach where we can manage drinking water and manage stormwater all through one capital plan,” said Gonzalez.

Community organizations—and community members, themselves—play an important role in connecting water issues to city planning. Camden’s century-old combined sewer system has received lots of attention from residents experiencing frequent contaminated flooding. Mitchell explained, “In the early 2000s, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership began to think about planning and redevelopment on a neighborhood scale. It was when we started to do more neighborhood-driven community outreach that we began to really understand the impact water was having in the city and how we needed to address it.”

As much as the residents learned about water infrastructure, Mitchell says she learned more from the residents. Community members addressed local flooding as their number one issue, which helped the local government see its impact, including on a young student who expressed concern that her school bus wouldn’t be able to make it to take her to school during a rain event. “Water infrastructure, whether combined sewer flooding, lead pipes, or water quality, impacts residents far more significantly than those in government could imagine. Until we talk to those residents, we won’t get a full understanding of what that means” Mitchell said.

Cooper’s Ferry Partnership has been working with the City of Camden to incorporate green infrastructure into everything it can—from art installations, to park development, to new building development—and making sure that water infrastructure is part of the planning process, keeping residents front and center.

Panelists noted that funding can be a significant barrier to implementing green infrastructure and other water infrastructure projects. In Camden, Mitchell found that her nonprofit organization and the City, working collaboratively and creatively, can leverage each other’s resources to move critical projects forward. Hawkins shared that D.C. implemented a stormwater utility to fund stormwater infrastructure upgrades, and Hoboken is investigating how it can do the same.  

Keeping water at the forefront of planning is key to the health of our communities. By working together, government leaders, utilities, community groups and members can develop and implement plans that will make our cities and towns strong and resilient for centuries to come while protecting our most valuable natural resource: water. 

Incorporating Climate Change: It’s the Law

June 24th, 2021 by Tim Evans

Earlier this year the legislature passed and the governor signed into law an amendment to the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL) requiring a climate change-related hazard vulnerability assessment.

What does this change mean for municipal officials? What will they be required to do and when? This was the topic of discussion in a session entitled Incorporating Climate Change: It’s the Law at the 2021 New Jersey Planning & Redevelopment Conference, co-hosted by New Jersey Future and the New Jersey Chapter of the American Planning Association.

Moderated by Leah Yasenchak, Principal at BRS, Inc., the panel included Jon Drill of Stickel, Koenig, Sullivan & Drill, LLC; Jessica Jahre, Senior Planner at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP); Anthony Mercantante, Township Administrator of Middletown Township; and Stan Slachetka, Group Manager at T&M Associates.

Jon Drill pointed out that the MLUL amendment falls under the section that lays out the required elements of a municipal land-use plan. The preparation of a climate change and hazard vulnerability assessment is thus triggered by any update of the land-use plan. Since many municipalities are going to have to update their master plans in order to satisfy their affordable housing requirements, they will also have to look at completing these vulnerability assessments as part of that process.

As to what needs to be in the assessment, Stan Slachetka mentioned that some municipalities have more climate-change-related vulnerabilities than others. Coastal municipalities are at special risk from sea-level rise, but all municipalities will be affected in some way, whether from increased temperatures, storm intensity, increased rainfall and stormwater runoff, fire risk, etc. Slachetka said probably the best way to think about a climate risk assessment is through the lens of a build-out analysis, in which a municipality considers what land uses would be located in vulnerable areas if everything called for in the master plan got built. If a town’s master plan and zoning are calling for development in areas that will be flood-prone in the future, for example, this should be a prompt to reexamine the zoning and redirect future development.

How do municipal leaders know what land uses are located in “vulnerable areas,” both now and in the future? Jessica Jahre announced that NJDEP has created a website, Resilient NJ, to help municipalities plan for climate change. She said its primary objective is “to accelerate community resilience planning,” and that “there is something in there that will be of interest to every town.” In particular, the website includes a toolkit designed to walk municipal leaders through the process of identifying their areas of vulnerability to climate change. The toolkit not only helps municipal leaders assess their risks but also contains a database of over 300 local actions that could be taken to address those risks, along with case studies, allowing municipalities to tailor their responses to their particular situations.

Slachetka suggested that municipalities should use these tools to ask what is their level of risk on various factors, what areas are affected, what is located there, and who lives there. He advised municipal leaders to look especially at “critical facilities” (e.g., utility lines, roads, public buildings) that are located in vulnerable areas and to identify which elements of the land-use plan potentially need to be updated to address these locational vulnerabilities.

Anthony Mercantante talked about the unusual situation in Middletown Township, which comprises numerous component neighborhoods with a diverse array of demographics. In contrast to the pattern typical of most coastal municipalities, Middletown’s neighborhoods along the Raritan bayshore (North Middletown, Port Monmouth, Belford, and Leonardo) actually have lower average home values than the inland neighborhoods, reflecting the generally lower-income profile of the residents. One of these neighborhoods, Port Monmouth, has recently been protected by a flood control project funded by the Army Corps of Engineers, involving flood walls, flood gates, and pumps. The design of the project had been on the Army Corps’s books since the 1990s, but it only actually got built in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. Mercantante indicated that these physical reinforcements are effective – North Middletown already had flood walls and did not flood during Sandy. But the infrastructure is expensive, sometimes involving land acquisition.

Infrastructure projects like the one in Port Monmouth are also reactive. The MLUL amendment is designed to instead encourage local governments to think proactively, the better to get residents and critical facilities out of harm’s way before the next disaster strikes.

Tracking Progress on Environmental Justice

June 15th, 2021 by Tim Evans

The Murphy administration has made environmental justice a priority, pledging to end the siting of environmental hazards in neighborhoods where low-income people and/or people of color live—and especially neighborhoods that are characterized by the presence of both low-income households and people of color. In September 2020 the Environmental Justice Law was passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor Murphy to protect disadvantaged communities from further exposure to environmentally hazardous land uses.

The law defines “overburdened communities,” which will benefit from the new protections. An overburdened community is any census block group in which any of the following conditions is met:

  1. at least 35 percent of households qualify as low-income households (at or below twice the poverty threshold, as determined by the United States Census Bureau); or
  2. at least 40 percent of residents identify as minority or as members of a State-recognized tribal community; or
  3. at least 40 percent of households have limited English proficiency (without an adult that speaks English “very well,” according to the United States Census Bureau).

The law is written to address the question of where not to locate certain types of facilities in the future. However, the administration has also indicated that it will prioritize the improvement of environmental conditions in overburdened communities when making decisions about where to invest in clean energy and other technologies designed to reduce the state’s carbon footprint, many of which will result in reductions in traditional pollutants, as well. The administration seems to want to use the newly defined concept of an overburdened community in a more proactive sense, rather than an exclusively reactive one.

One of the first situations in which this commitment will be tested is in the spending of proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) program. Participating states are required to use the proceeds from CO2 allowance auctions for programs that are designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the use of clean energy sources, but it is up to each state to decide exactly where (geographically) this money will be spent. In theory, there is nothing to stop a state from spending its RGGI money mainly on charging stations for electric vehicles in upscale suburbs, for example, which would do nothing to improve conditions in the communities that have historically suffered the most severe pollution impacts. But, New Jersey has already taken steps to assure the public that this will not happen.

The NJ Department of Environmental Protection, which is coordinating efforts among the three state agencies1 charged with spending RGGI proceeds, has set up a RGGI Climate Investments Dashboard, where information about projects receiving RGGI funding will be made publicly available. To date, 19 projects have been added to the dashboard, all of which involve electrified municipal vehicles of various types (garbage trucks, shuttle buses, school buses, etc.). As more programs are finalized and application periods close, information about the awardees will be added.

The dashboard allows projects to be filtered and displayed according to various subsetting criteria, one of which is whether the project is located in an environmental justice (EJ) community. The overburdened community block groups are also illustrated on a map on the dashboard, and users can examine the locations of funded projects with respect to EJ community boundaries. Thus far, all projects have been tagged with the EJ flag because, in each case, the electric vehicle will be operating in a municipality that contains at least one EJ block group. However, the assignment of EJ status for mobile projects is not as straightforward as is the case for projects having a fixed location, in which case a building or other permanent facility is clearly either inside or outside an EJ block group. Electric vehicles, by contrast, may only spend part of their time in EJ block groups.

The development of tracking metrics is an ongoing process. New metrics may be added to the dashboard in the future, and others that do not lend themselves to graphic display may be tracked behind the scenes. In particular, if a methodology can be developed to distinguish the uses and benefits of non-stationary projects, such as electric vehicles, between EJ and non-EJ areas, New Jersey Future will continue to encourage state agencies to officially adopt such metrics and make results public. More generally, we will continue to provide feedback on proposed metrics for tracking progress on environmental justice as more RGGI-funded programs gear up and are added to the dashboard. As the dashboard user manual says, “The public needs to know how administering agencies are investing RGGI proceeds and what benefits are being achieved from those investments.”

While these investments are taking place, the State is contemplating joining the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI). TCI is similar to RGGI but with a focus on the transportation sector. TCI discourages fossil fuel consumption in the transportation sector while generating funds that can be invested in cleaning the transportation sector, such as investments in alternatives to driving. Having good metrics and a tracking system in place, as they are doing with RGGI, will put the State in a good position to invest TCI proceeds wisely should they come to pass.

1 The Board of Public Utilities and the Economic Development Authority are the other two agencies.

All Boats Rise: Investing in Climate Resilience & Communities

June 15th, 2021 by Missy Rebovich

The science is clear: climate change is here, and its threats are only going to grow more pronounced. But, carefully coordinated efforts can not only protect New Jerseyans from these threats, but can help spur economic activity, as well, making our state that much stronger. That was the message from four senior-level officials from Governor Murphy’s administration at the 2021 Planning and Redevelopment Conference, hosted by New Jersey Future and the NJ Chapter of the American Planning Association. New Jersey Economic Development Authority CEO Tim Sullivan, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Acting Commissioner Shawn LaTourette, New Jersey Board of Public Utilities President Joseph Fiordaliso, and New Jersey Office of Climate Action and the Green Economy Director Jane Cohen detailed how planning and redevelopment will play an important role in achieving Governor Murphy’s ambitious climate change goals at the All Boats Rise: Investing in Climate Resilience & Communities session moderated by Kathleen Ellis, New Jersey Future Board Chair.

It’s easy to think about the physical threats of climate change to our environment, such as sea level rise and the urban heat island effect, but climate change is also damaging the economic health of the state, Cohen explained. All of these forces are having a disproportionate impact on New Jersey’s vulnerable communities. That’s why Governor Murphy created the Office of Climate Action and the Green Economy, charged with addressing climate change, planning for a clean energy future, and transitioning to a green economy while prioritizing equity. Both this office and the NJ Council on the Green Economy are working to ensure close coordination between the State’s departments and agencies, many of which will play crucial roles in the design and implementation of climate change solutions. According to Cohen, “the purpose is to be intentional about how we transition to a green economy to make sure that the workforce development opportunities and economic opportunities are going to folks transitioning from traditional energy jobs into family-sustaining jobs in this new economy.”

Through the Office of Climate Action and the Green Economy and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), Governor Murphy recently released the New Jersey Climate Change Resilience Strategy, which lays out the Governor’s approach to climate change adaptation policy. LaTourette summarized the State’s larger policy as reducing pollution and responding to climate change, both of which can be addressed on parallel and complementary tracks. Of particular concern to the NJDEP is that New Jersey municipalities understand the importance of planning for the future and use forward-looking science to determine the areas that are unsuitable for development, either because they will be underwater or because people will not have a safe way out in a disaster. This can be achieved, according to LaTourette, through the State Planning Commission center designation process and by offering incentives only to developments that have carefully considered climate risks.

The coupling of a climate change strategy with an economic strategy represents a paradigm shift in how we think about climate change policy. Sullivan explained that the administration “reject[s] the false choice that is sometimes promulgated by others that you can pursue sustainability, an environmental strategy, and an energy strategy that is forward-thinking and progressive or you can grow your economy,” but not both. Sullivan is ensuring that the New Jersey Economic Development Authority’s investments are not going to developments that do not consider climate change—it’s a bad investment of taxpayer dollars. Sullivan sees New Jersey’s approach to climate change as presenting an enormous opportunity to grow our economy. Offshore wind, solar, and electric retrofits of developments will create a wealth of jobs at all levels. 

These investments go beyond housing and businesses. Fiordaliso explained that New Jersey has invested $5 billion in infrastructure upgrades, maintenance, and mitigation projects since 2012, but more severe storms will continue to cause outages and wreak havoc on our infrastructure if we don’t do something to mitigate the impacts of climate change. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that the energy we use comes from clean sources. The Board of Public Utilities (BPU) is hard at work to get New Jersey to 100% clean energy by 2050, an undertaking that will protect our state while expanding the job market. Additionally, BPU has an office of clean energy equity to ensure that all communities in New Jersey have the opportunity to participate in what Fiordaliso calls “the clean energy revolution.” 

The panelists all emphasized that successful implementation of the climate change resilience strategy relies on close collaboration and a strong focus on equity and environmental justice. New Jersey Future will continue to offer input regarding the strategies and plans and looks forward to their implementation.

New Jersey Future and Partners Launch Lead-Free NJ

June 15th, 2021 by Jael Davis

Lead poisoning from myriad sources impacts thousands of New Jersey children every year, causing long term medical and behavioral issues that do not always resolve when lead exposure ceases. Exposure is particularly common in communities of color and low-income communities due to systemic inequities. Recent highly-publicized examples of lead-contaminated drinking water have drawn attention to this important issue, but more work needs to be done.

That’s why New Jersey Future, along with numerous partners including policy advocates and community members and organizations, launched Lead-Free NJ. This new collaborative seeks to mitigate the prevalence and impact of lead contamination across the state by pursuing an action-oriented advocacy agenda. 

The collaborative’s goals include:

  • Holistic lead remediation—eliminate childhood lead hazards within 10 years.
  • Equitable policy change—Achieve adoption of proactive, equitable state and local policies that ensure that our environment is lead-safe and our children are unburdened by lead.
  • Empowered communities—Build the capacity and power of grassroots groups and affected communities.

Join us as we work together to make New Jersey lead free!

Hoboken’s Focus on Vision Zero Makes Streets Safe for Everyone

May 6th, 2021 by Tim Evans

The transportation-focused website Streetsblog recently turned a spotlight on Hoboken, praising the New Jersey city for its success in eliminating pedestrian deaths. The blog says that Hoboken “shows what can be accomplished when a municipality really focuses on the zero of Vision Zero.” The term “Vision Zero” generally refers to the goal of reducing pedestrian fatalities to zero. In most places with such plans, the goal remains aspirational, but Hoboken has made it a reality.

Photo of Washington Street in Hoboken with bike lane, walk ways, green infrastructure, and pedestrians.

Washington Street, Hoboken, New Jersey

Designed for People Before Cars

Hoboken benefits from several advantages, compared to other parts of the state and the country. Like most urban centers and first-generation “streetcar” suburbs in the Northeast and Midwest, Hoboken experienced its initial growth spurt in the decades before the automobile became the default mode of transportation in the U.S. Despite its population rebound over the last three decades, Hoboken still has fewer residents today (52,677 as of the Census Bureau’s 2019 municipal population estimates) than it did in 1930 (59,261). Hoboken is inherently pedestrian-oriented, because it was built during an era in which everyone was essentially a pedestrian, either walking around town or walking to and from public transportation.

Even within New Jersey, Hoboken’s street network is more grid-like and finer-grained than those of most other cities. Its median block size of 2.83 acres is small enough to rank Hoboken number 42 among the state’s 565 municipalities, with respect to block size (the median municipality has a median block size of 5.18 acres). Small blocks with frequent intersections create multiple routes for pedestrians, cyclists, and car drivers, as opposed to branching networks, which inhibit direct routes and force people into their vehicles and onto regional arterial roads. Additionally, the short distances between intersections that are characteristic of street grids tend to limit vehicle speeds, enhancing pedestrian safety.

Conversely, rapidly-growing metropolitan areas in the Sunbelt have developed with the automobile at the core of their urban fabrics. Their streets were designed with the primary goal of moving cars rapidly across town, treating pedestrians as an afterthought at best. Data corroborate this trend; the metropolitan areas with the highest pedestrian death rates, according to Smart Growth America’s Dangerous By Design 2021 report, are predominantly located in the Sunbelt.


Pursuing the Vision with Action

Still, Hoboken didn’t accomplish zero traffic deaths solely because of its pre-World War II development pattern. Its laudable achievement is the result of a deliberate and sustained effort, the centerpiece of which is the redesign of a 16-block stretch of Washington Street, the city’s main commercial thoroughfare. While Washington Street serves local shopping needs, the presence of Hoboken Terminal (one of the state’s busiest rail transit stations) at the corridor’s southern end generates additional pedestrian traffic by attracting visitors and commuters to and from elsewhere in the New York metropolitan area. 

New Jersey Future awarded the project a Smart Growth Award in 2020 for capitalizing on the city’s well-connected street grid by adding design features that seek to improve the pedestrian experience. These tactics are replicable in any mixed-use downtown, so numerous New Jersey towns can learn from Hoboken’s achievements. Hoboken’s enhancements to pedestrian safety include:

  • Curbside rain gardens, which capture stormwater, aesthetically improve the streetscape, and create buffers between pedestrians and moving traffic
  • Curb extensions, which reduce the width of intersections, limit the speed of turning vehicles, and shorten crosswalks (consequently reducing the amount of time that pedestrians need to cross the street).
  • Traffic signal improvements, including the incorporation of pedestrian-only phases and the addition of pedestrian countdown timers, which allow pedestrians to cross streets more safely.
  • Efforts to increase the visibility of bus stops in order to alert drivers to the presence of people boarding or exiting buses
  • Striping new bike lanes, which makes drivers more aware of the presence of cyclists and encourages cycling.
  • Designating loading zones for trucks and other delivery vehicles, which reduces the frequency with which these vehicles double-park. This alleviates a major safety hazard for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers, and the rise of online shopping will likely make parking for delivery vehicles an even bigger issue in the future.

Benefits of Walkability

Getting people out of their cars for local trips produces numerous societal benefits: less air pollution, less time wasted behind the wheel, and regular exercise that can help ward off the many health problems that are symptomatic of a sedentary lifestyle. For older or disabled community members who cannot drive, living in a walkable town means that the loss of a driver’s license does not have to result in the loss of quality of life. And, of course, reducing car travel also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, an important climate-change mitigation measure.

Fortunately, there is strong demand for in-town living and a “car-light”–or even car-free–lifestyle. Furthermore, New Jersey contains many centers with the “good bones” of well-connected street grids. But, to translate these assets into substantive behavioral changes, people must feel safe when walking. Hoboken should serve as a statewide–as well as national–model for how to turn Vision Zero into a reality.

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

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