NEWARK, NJ—(SBN)—Generating jobs, improving public schools, and enhancing public safety for residents in New Jersey’s urban core are the key factors essential to reviving the cities and promoting economic development, according to three of the state’s former governors, who spoke exclusively with StateBroadcastNews.com.
The trio of former governors attended last week’s NJSpotlight.com “Spotlight on Cities” conference at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in downtown Newark.
Republican Thomas Kean and Democratic former governors James J. Florio and James McGreevey all told StateBroadcastNews.com that these key performance indicators would be essential to a successful economic turnaround in cities like Newark and Camden, where poverty, crime, and a lack of economic stimulus have weighed heavily on urban residents.
“The first thing is to recognize how important it is,” Kean says about an urban agenda for the state. “You can have a whole campaign for governor—and we’ve had a number of them—without the cities hardly being mentioned.” Kean appeared at the conference in a dialogue with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka about the city’s revival.
The present trend for millennials moving into the cities makes Kean optimistic, he says.
“Morristown is booming, people are moving back in to Newark, Jersey City is booming, New Brunswick is doing pretty well,” he says. “Even Camden, for the first time in 30 years, is starting to show some real signs of life. Now that’s all encouraging, but if government comes in on top of what’s already happening and has policies to encourage its further growth, then I think we can turn the cities around, and do it over the next four or eight years, not over a much longer period.”
Former Gov. Florio agreed that the Garden State’s cities are in a good position to benefit from population and economic trends.
“The demographics are changing, and the prospects for urban redevelopment are getting much better,” he says, pointing to Newark, Perth Amboy, and in particular, his hometown of Camden. “Camden is the place that’s close to my heart, I was raised there, lived there, represented them,” he says. “Having a wonderful mayor who is honest and competent, Dana Redd, is really refreshing. It’s not always been the case that we’ve had competence and honesty in urban government. I think things are starting to change, and I’m cautiously optimistic that we are going to a new level of attainment of good goals that all of us seek after.”
Florio agreed with Kean that improving education and safety is essential to improving the cities.
“Urban areas come back when you have public safety and when you have good educational opportunity for people,” he says, citing community policing as an important strategy for enhancing neighborhood safety. “You’re not going to have economic growth unless you have an educated workforce. The knowledge-based economy that we’re going into requires that we make the investments into education. And for those who say education is too expensive, wait till they find out what the cost of ignorance is.”
McGreevey, who works with a Jersey City program called New Jersey Reentry Corporation, helping former prison inmates gain practical skills to enable them to find jobs after their release, says vocational education has been neglected by the state’s school systems.
“Having a technical skill is valued by the marketplace can ensure that someone is marketable, is profitable,” he says. “I would just push New Jersey into a more vigorous creative framework that allows for entrepreneurial education that recognizes best practices, but allows students to be their best.”
Millennials are needed in the urban core, says McGreevey, adding “we also need a commitment to the population that’s present to make sure they’re not placed out of their homes, and to make sure that the interest of Millennials in educational excellence is afforded to other parts of the community.”
You can hear the complete audio interviews SBN conducted with the three former NJ governors in the player below.