“Places are more than a town or a city. Places surge lifelong through our bloodstreams. Places are a great unifier. Places help shape our dreams and desires. Places give us so much more of what is required to breathe free and live, live ever higher. Place is so much more than an ‘X’ on a map.” –Pandora Scooter, spoken word artist and Redevelopment Forum performer.
How can we plan smarter and more equitably? These were the important questions considered at New Jersey Future’s 15th annual redevelopment forum. More than 500 planners, developers, local and state officials, and other professionals joined New Jersey Future in New Brunswick at the March 6 day-long conference to look at current redevelopment trends and hear from thought leaders in the field. In his welcome, New Jersey Future Board of Trustees Chair President Peter Reinhart spoke about the evolution of smart growth. Today, all aspects of a redevelopment project and its impact on the community must be considered, with special focus on health, resiliency, and equity. Reinhart urged forum attendees to “keep the big picture of redevelopment in mind and ask yourself how you can play a role in ensuring New Jersey’s redevelopment is the smartest and most inclusive it can be.”
The morning plenary, Building Healthy Communities, featured panelists from various planning-related fields who examined ways in which the built environment impacts the health of the people within it. Moderator Giridhar Mallya, Senior Policy Officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, led the panelists in a discussion on how transportation, lack of affordable housing, lead in water, and climate change are impacting health, demonstrating the critical importance of incorporating a culture of health approach into redevelopment planning and implementation.
Climate scientist Dr. Adrienne Hollis of the Union of Concerned Scientists noted that climate change is a public health emergency with serious impacts experienced in environmental justice communities “first and worst.” New Jersey Future’s Managing Director for Policy and Water, Chris Sturm, discussed a plan to remove lead in New Jersey drinking water over the next decade, stemming from the work of the Jersey Water Works Lead in Drinking Water Task Force. This work was also discussed in a lead-focused morning breakout session moderated by New Jersey Future’s Policy Manager Gary Brune. Nick Sifuentes, Executive Director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign, and Staci Berger, President and CEO of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, shared the importance of access to transit and safe, affordable housing to the health of individuals and communities.
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe spoke to forum attendees about the threat of rising sea levels and the steps New Jersey is taking under Governor Murphy’s administration to combat and adapt to climate change, including the signing of two executive orders, emphasizing “if you know what to plan for, you can adapt to it.” Mentioning the effects of sea level rise in his own hometown of Annapolis, President of Smart Growth America’s Leadership Institute and former governor of Maryland, Parris Glendening spoke in his keynote address about climate change and inequity as two of the greatest threats to our future, warning that “we will face both economic and humanitarian crises if we do not start to address (these issues) in a more focused and in a more effective way.” One afternoon breakout session looked at ways in which communities can make transportation, energy, and water systems resilient, and at redesigning these systems to take advantage of new technologies and changing community needs, much like the Gateway Master Plan in the Tampa Bay area.
Using redevelopment to achieve more equitable communities was a prominent theme throughout this year’s forum. Equity was a significant feature of the plenary discussion on climate change, infrastructure investment, and affordable housing, and it was in Governor Glendening’s urging of everyone to consider whether each policy reduces or expands inequality, to ensure that people’s lives are not made worse by redevelopment decisions. Equity was the focus of a breakout session on redevelopment strategies to achieve equity, and it was a large part of a session on place-based economic development in downtowns. New Jersey Future Executive Director Peter Kasabach highlighted equity in his remarks, receiving a round of applause in acknowledging “we need to break down segregation in this state and recognize diversity is one of New Jersey’s greatest strengths and one of our most important assets.”
New Jersey Future has made it a priority to incorporate this year’s forum’s core concepts into all of its work. From combatting lead in drinking water, to promoting aging-friendly communities, to working on the State Plan, New Jersey Future aims to create healthy, equitable, and resilient communities where people want to live and work. We hope you will join us. Let’s grow smarter together, New Jersey.
This summary was written by Kelley Heck from Heck Public Affairs.