It’s interesting to talk about economic development planning from the frame of equity. Planning for economic development often requires the earmarking of land and capital, and is done in the name of “the greater good”. Communities need to be economically viable in order to thrive. But who really reaps the benefits of a thriving economy? Are those benefits equally distributed across residents from all backgrounds?
In Levy’s “Contemporary Urban Planning”, the author discusses the ideal state of economic development planning and lays out a framework for the planning process itself. There should be a needs assessment to understand what are the biggest economic issues plaguing a municipality; there should be a market evaluation, to assess the strengths, the skills, and the type of labor supply that exists in a municipality; then, a plan with minimal negative social, fiscal, and environmental consequences should be formulated and adopted. In theory, this works terrifically and stimulates the economy and creates jobs and leaves municipalities in great condition. But what happens when economic development planning is aspirational instead of realistic? What happens when municipalities plan around the workforce that they want to have, instead of the workforce that really exists?
Looking at the development of the City of New Brunswick over the past 50 or so years brings up these themes. New Brunswick is home to the headquarters of Johnson & Johnson, a company that has historically provided a significant number of factory jobs to the residents of New Brunswick. As time has gone on, Johnson and Johnson’s demand for jobs shifted to a white collar workforce, forcing hundreds of factory workers into unemployment. These new jobs haven’t necessarily been filled by residents of New Brunswick – often, they are filled by workers from surrounding cities and towns. Rutgers and Devco have put in a concerted effort to “revitalize” New Brunswick around this new professional workforce and around the student population of New Brunswick, but this inevitably comes at the expense of working class, undocumented, and unhoused people living in the city.
A growing number of lots are being bought through the use of Economic Development Authority tax credits, and developed into high-end or luxury housing options for working professionals and high-income students. The steady gentrification of New Brunswick through these policies greatly reduces the amount of affordable, accessible housing options for original residents of New Brunswick. It also brings into question the group that truly benefits from New Brunswick’s economic development policies and subsidies – is it the long-time residents of New Brunswick, who give this city its beauty, its richness, and its diversity? Or is it the population that New Brunswick hopes to attract as it continues to develop into its next era?
- Levy, John M. 2014. 10th Edition. Contemporary Urban Planning.
- “Economic Development.” Planning and Development. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2016. <http://thecityofnewbrunswick.org/planninganddevelopment/economic-development-1/>.
- “Explainer.” Explainer: How Downtown New Brunswick Has Emerged from Its Doldrums – NJ Spotlight. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2016. <http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/15/01/13/explainer-how-downtown-new-brunswick-is-emerging-from-its-decades-long-doldrums/>.