From the Philly Inquirer:
For years, developers have plowed under New Jersey’s orchards and farms to build office parks and suburban mansions. But if growth continues at its current pace, the Garden State will be built-out in 20 to 50 years – the first state in the nation to do so.
Little by little, builders are returning to the state’s cities, inner-ring suburbs and rural villages to try again. They’re gutting the old and replacing with new. In many places, they’re capitalizing on a national trend toward urban living, walk-to-work and transit communities.
New Jersey cannot continue to prosper or grow without vibrant redevelopment, such as that sprouting along NJTransit’s River Line in Burlington County.
But redevelopment isn’t easy.
To dissect the hurdles, more than 400 architects, planners, engineers, environmentalists, developers, and state and municipal officials gathered last week at a forum in Trenton sponsored by the smart-growth advocate New Jersey Future.
They debated the state laws, financing, design and community interaction necessary to bring back an old neighborhood – decidedly more complicated than bulldozing a green field.
One huge challenge is the state’s industrial past. Land is often laced with dangerous residue from previous owners. Cleanup isn’t always complete or clearly documented.
Questions linger, too, about the appropriate level of site cleanup for residential reuse and how to ensure adequate warnings as ownership changes hands.
Stakeholders in forums like last week’s need to devise answers to those and other project stoppers. For economic and environmental reasons, the Corzine administration must put urban redevelopment atop its agenda, as long promised.
The state needs revitalized cities to reduce workers’ daily commutes – among the longest in the nation – which are causing businesses to locate elsewhere.
Cities and older towns are the best places to diversify housing, especially to create greatly needed multifamily and affordable homes. Redevelopment would also save open space elsewhere, thereby protecting water supply and reducing air pollution.
Redevelopment is the ultimate in reduce, reuse, recycle. It’s good for the economy, good for the planet.