Newark's present problems are vast and far beyond repair by any conventional method. Newark began as a thriving industrial city in the early 1900s, however, most of its employers left the city decades ago. After years of political and social dysfunction, more than a quarter of its residents live below the poverty line. Newark used to be a thriving manufacturing center, and at its peak, around World War II it was a city of 450,000. In 1967 Newark was the scene of various riots that resulted in deaths and millions of dollars in damages. This led to the title of America’s “worst city” and by then its population had decreased to 280,000. Corruption, crime and unemployment have been a persistent problem in Newark: 5 of the last 7 mayors have faced criminal charges, in 2008 Newark's unemployment rate reached 14.3 percent the highest since 1994, and while there have been efforts to reduce crime in Newark, it continues to be well above the state and national averages.
Newark’s proximity to the sea and the Passaic river basin has resulted in repeated flooding due to river overflows and heavy storms. Annual expected damages in the basin due to flooding are over $161,000,000 and there have been 10 federal disaster declarations in the last 42 years. Since 1900, 26 lives have been lost, $6 billion dollars in damages and if a flood equivalent to the one in1903 was to happen again it would result in over $2,240,000,000 in damages.
Sea level rise is a reality that is and will continue to impact Newark’s coastline. Recent studies of sea level rise along the New Jersey coast show a rise of 3 to 4 mm/yr, however this number is predicted to double in the near future and continue to rise due to global warming. In addition to its location, the engineered nature of a large area of Newark’s land has become a cause of concern considering the hazards posed by sea level rise and severe coastal storms.
Increasingly it is being recognized that engineered shoreline stabilization is economically inefficient and ultimately only a short term solution. Instead, flexible adaptation strategies that recognize and plan for the dynamic nature of coastlines should be promoted.
Can Newark’s imminent flooding and sea level rise be turned into a controlled system that redefines Newark’s geography and becomes the framework from which a restructured and rehabilitated city will emerge?
Newark’s continuing rise in water, will ultimately affect how people move, how they interact and how they communicate. This will result in a general restructuring of the city and its communities. Through specific and controlled interventions the city’s geography can be modified to suit a landscape with rising water levels while simultaneously reshaping Newark’s urban fabric.
The creation of a controlled and interconnected system of bodies of water throughout specific areas (those most in need of restructuring due to high crime rates, high number of vacant lots, and lack of open space and education) will give Newark the opportunity to evolve and gradually restructure itself as the water level rises. This will not only provide a preventive system for water level rise, it will also provide the opportunity for a new beginning where the city becomes a living memory of what it once was, and of what it now is.
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