Dear New Brunswick, why are you such a dump?
The most common response to this question is that citizens of New Brunswick, and Rutgers University students have not taken care of it. But this post is not about the sad condition of New Brunswick, it is about the fact that the city has great potential and I don’t see enough being done. Recently, Rutgers has heavily invested in constructing several new educational and residential facilities on its College Avenue Campus, but how does all of this benefit the city as a whole? Sure, the new buildings will make the campus look nicer, but I get the feeling that Rutgers is overlooking the importance of the condition of the city that exists around it.
Often times, the quality of the area around a university plays a big role in whether or not a prospective student chooses to apply or attend that school. A year ago, the location of Rutgers was almost a deal-breaker for me, but as an aspiring urban planner, I saw New Brunswick’s potential. If Rutgers is seriously considering being a “more selective” University, the City of New Brunswick needs to become a destination of its own –more than just where Rutgers and Johnson & Johnson happen to be located. It might sound vague and too imaginative, but I dream big and I’ve witnessed other cities do it… so bear with me.
Students and young professionals are now moving to vibrant urban environments where they can live, work, and play without necessarily relying on an automobile. This trend is evident in Austin, TX, Cleveland, OH, Providence, RI, and several more medium-sized cities. From my perspective, New Brunswick is where I (temporarily) live and go to school. However, the city provides very few opportunities to work and play. Where are the interesting spaces and neighborhoods? The festivals? The complex variety of businesses? THE CULTURE? As a result of missing those aspects, during their free time, Rutgers students either stay on campus, go to house parties, or take the commuter rail out of the city. Furthermore, many employees of Rutgers and Johnson & Johnson commute to New Brunswick in the morning and then leave as soon as they are done working.
A process, such as “revitalizing the City of New Brunswick,” is one that would take many years to come to fruition with no immediate returns in investment. However, I have spent several years in Providence, Rhode Island, a city that has started its revitalization process two decades ago, and now Providence is becoming one of the most desired cities in the Northeast to live in. I don’t want to put Providence on a pedestal, because it definitely has its own issues, but the difference between New Brunswick and Providence is that, in Providence, the community, local institutions, and city government are noticeably working together to address the problems. The biggest question of all is where and how to start. My advice would be to start small. Get some local business owners and residents together to create an “Easton Ave Improvement District” that just focuses on revitalizing that street, then branch out from there. Or even organize local artists and art students to work on installing art in and around the city. I’ve come to find through my own experience in Providence that, if positive change is visibly taking place in a community, then people will be more inclined to get involved. Start small, dream big, accomplish a great deal. As the famous urban planner Daniel Burnham once said, “make no little plans.”