New Brunswick as a model for redevelopment

The following post has nothing to do with Rutgers athletics.

There is an interesting article in today's Ledger, which includes the second public mention of New Brunswick as an analogous model for the future gentrification of Atlantic City in as many months. If you haven't been following this story, last month the Christie administration released its long-anticipated report on the future of NJSEA, with the major headlines being proposals to end state subsidies for horse racing, and inaugurate a public-private partnership to promote the economic revitalization of the Atlantic City casino resorts on the southern-ish end of the New Jersey coastal shoreline.

"New Brunswick is the most successful revitalization model in New Jersey. Redevelopment there has been done with intelligence and independently of government," said Jon Hanson, chairman of the governor’s commission that recommended taking over Atlantic City. "I absolutely believe following that model may be Atlantic City’s best hope."

The question that immediately comes to mind is about the merits of using the DEVCO model from New Brunswick (discussed in detail in either article linked above, or in my overindulgent Grease Trucks post from last year). if anything, gentrification advocates in New Jersey will first point to the Hudson County examples of Hoboken or Jersey City as the most high profile success stories (or Newark under Mayor Cory Bookerr for a more recent example).

That's ultimately for New Jersey and Atlantic City to decide, although today's piece does have a few distinct nuggets of information for Central Jerseyans. I think the point about how New Brunswick has changed rapidly even in the past decade is a good one. Sean Keeley, who grew up in Old Bridge, wouldn't even recognize the city upon stepping foot in it today per our conversations. That disparity will grow even starker once the new downtown Gateway Center opens.

There are thorny issues involved in playing to consumers who want unconsciously to cultivate a self-image of affluence and the urbane. Sure, Trader Joe's is good in spite of how annoying its evangelists can be, but I think we all know at some level that Cake Boss is overpriced and overhyped, and Five Guys is just Wendy's with better marketing. The gourmet pizza at Whole Foods may look tasty, but you're paying $8 a slice (true story as verified by me two weeks ago in Union) for the smug sense of self-satisfaction. Either that, or you're one of those poor souls who has never heard of Wegmans.

This is the context in which  all the nasty little details about eminent domain mentioned in the Ledger come up (the Washington Post also has a good piece today delving into the various socio-economic aspects), and then instantly surrender and cede all ethical concerns once the parties involved start playing to your own individual wants and desires. We are all hypocrites.

"The one thing we haven’t done really well is retail," said Paladino, 50, former in-house counsel to Gov. Jim Florio. "You can get a top-notch meal in downtown New Brunswick, great theater and first-class medical treatment, but you can’t buy a decent pair of jeans."

When DEVCO announced its plans for a "Wellness Plaza" on Rt. 27 several months back, that was exactly my immediate reaction. I immediately thought of UPenn's campus, and imagined an anthropomorphic Fresh Grocer store dancing in a figurative bubble in my mind's eye as all of my objections melted away. Yes, complete with tiny cartoon hands and feet. If that's a typical reaction, then I think Christie's panel and the Boardwalk Empire producers (only weeks away, hell yeah) may well be on to something.

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