My bizarre envy of Newark, New Jersey A city collaboration that became the model of transformation

Posted by Janice Scheckter on 27 January 2016 9:50 AM CAT

I am envious of Newark and I’ve never been there. I don’t want to live there either, but I wish I could bottle some of the collaborative magic that has transformed this city and bring it back to Joburg, my city that I love and hate - all at the same time.

Here’s the story across an edited timeline. In 1967 Newark suffered through five days and nights of riots, after two white police officers allegedly beat a black taxi driver. Twenty-six people were killed and more than a thousand were injured as houses and businesses were looted and burned. For the next 15 years the city continued its downward spiral. By the 1980s crime had risen dramatically and the drug culture flourished.  Just as a yardstick – this was a city without a supermarket for many years.

Over the years several groups attempted to revitalise Newark, but their efforts were severely disjointed and political agendas continued to polarise an already dysfunctional city.

1984 saw a turn around. For years it was rumoured that one of the city’s largest employers, Prudential, was going to move, but in 1984 not only did Prudential decide to stay, but to expand its headquarters and become actively involved in addressing some of the city’s most critical needs.

The company appointed Alex Plinio to public affairs with a mandate to manage the company’s civic activities. He started by interviewing 50 leaders and by looking to other cities that had overcome similar challenges. He gained permission from Prudential to support a community-wide collaborative initiative which became known as the Newark Collaboration Group. The NCG was true to its name collaborating with the broader community and in 1991 the city received the National Civic League’s coveted All-America City Award for collaborative revitalisation efforts.

The other day I went web trawling to understand the status of Newark today. I watched a Harvard forum interview with the police commissioner, a former gang member – turned youth mentor; and Mike Levin, filmmaker and consultant on the Sundance Channel. This was part of a six-part series called Brick City, documenting the transformation of Newark.

So why the envy? Firstly there are signs of collaboration throughout and its sustained collaboration that’s transcended decades. Secondly, this was one of the most dangerous cities in the US. Today because of its proximity to New York City, many utility and high-tech companies opened or expanded offices here in the past two decades. Finally, when I listen to a police commissioner and hear about pro-active policing and about a programme that rewarded citizens for guns handed in, I’m envious.

Oh – what the fantastic city Joburg, Jozi, Egoli …could be!

Janice Scheckter is a passionate Joburg resident, collaboration activist and co-founder of Indigo New Media.





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