From NJ Spotlight:
Could suburban communities really empty out if officials don’t plan better to meet the demand for vibrant, walkable neighborhoods?
If recent population settlement patterns continue, and local officials do not change their planning patterns, some of New Jersey’s suburban communities could find themselves approaching ghost-town status, with few residents, many vacant houses, and countless empty stores.
So far this decade, population growth in urban areas in north Jersey has outpaced that of suburban areas, with Hunterdon, Monmouth, Sussex and Warren counties actually losing population between 2010 and 2017, U.S. Census data shows. The reason, according to many experts in planning and demographics, is because many people — including young millennials and aging baby boomers — want to live in vibrant places where they can walk to restaurants and recreation. Those McMansions on multi-acre lots that are a car ride away from everything in many suburbs largely have fallen out of fashion.
“The challenge for the suburbs of New Jersey is that they must adapt in order to survive,” said James Hughes a Rutgers University professor and dean emeritus of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, as he set the scene to open a forum last week on the topic.
Titled “Future of the ‘Burbs: Retrofitting and Repositioning for the 21st Century,” the discussion last Thursday at the Bloustein school featured a national expert giving examples of ways to revamp old offices parks and malls into more attractive, walkable neighborhoods, as well as a panel of New Jerseyans talking about how difficult it will be to make similar changes here.
“Our biggest problem is a lack of educated leadership,” said Carl Goldberg, a developer who is co-chair of the executive committee of the Rutgers Center for Real Estate. Goldberg built four major mixed-use projects in the center of Morristown that have helped its revitalization. But when he approached other communities with similar plans, he said, “I can’t tell you how many dozens of mayors won’t even open the door. That’s the horror of home rule here in the state of New Jersey and why it is really crippling the future.”