A Car’s-Eye View of Newark

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Suppose you wrote the names of the largest hundred or so municipalities in the United States on a series of index cards. What’s the logical way to arrange them? By population, land area, age, or density? By the proportions of various ethnic groups?

Now, suppose you arranged the cards by something more qualitative: levels of prestige. At the top, you’ll find the obvious subjects: New York, say, and Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco. You’ll maybe even find St Louis, with its arch, and New Orleans, with its history, and the lot of other American cities which have created some level of mythos around them. And moving toward the end, you’ll find Newark, New Jersey.

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Indeed, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that Newark is famous because it’s infamous: a symbol of urban decay, the classic City Gone Wrong. Of course, this is hyperbole. The shimmering lights of today’s Manhattan would make practically any city look, well, underwhelming. But Newark is still special, whether because of its 1967 riots (among the most dramatic in the nation), because of its project housing (more spent per capita than any other American city), or because of a recent string of unfortunate events (like a violent massacre only a year ago). In some sense, then, Newark is a symbol of the United States’ urban problems of the last 50 years. Talk about suburbanization all you want, but Newark might be the prototypical American city.

To the east are working-class Kearney and Harrison and then the Meadowlands, a swamp-cum-industrial centre, now home to a sports complex where the Giants play. To the south is dreaded Newark Liberty International Airport – they added the word “Liberty” about six years ago for public relations – and then Elizabeth, another old working class city that still grinds on. To the north, following the sinuous Passaic River, are the burnt-out factories that were once Newark’s jewels, as well as the city’s gorgeous old Victorian houses around Branch Brook Park. But today, as my friend Kris picks me up and drops his new SLR camera into my lap, I’m coming from the leafy suburbs to the west. That’s the downtown approach that you’ll see here.

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This entry was written by Sam Imberman , posted on Sunday January 06 2008at 07:01 pm , filed under United States and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

One Response to “A Car’s-Eye View of Newark”

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