NJ Spotlight on Cities is looking to help the state start thinking ahead about its urban centers, with some of its political leaders and strategic thinkers offering their insights.
The second-annual all-day conference about urban policy will take place on October 14 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, and will include more than 20 talks and 50 speakers — all discussing issues and challenges facing our cities now and in the future.
Kicking off the day will be former Gov. Tom Kean and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka in a keynote conversation about setting an “urban agenda” for New Jersey.
They will be followed by talks on a broad range of issues, such as the opioid crisis, affordable housing, community schools, and integrated healthcare. And the day will close with a discussion of New Jersey’s 2017 gubernatorial race, with some of the likely candidates participating.
NJ Spotlight also plans to release the results of its inaugural poll on the state of our cities, being conducted in partnership with Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. How are our cities doing, compared with earlier polls dating back decades? And what matters most?
Held for the first time last year, NJ Spotlight on Cities drew more than 250 people and sparked off timely discussions on topics like the fate of the Abbott v. Burke school-equity rulings and the pros and cons of business-tax credits.
This year’s gathering will be the first time Kean and Baraka will share a public stage to discuss an “urban agenda,” and while the two have no shortage of opinions, they concur on at least one thing: the need to focus more on our cities, especially as New Jersey heads into 2017.
Kean recently recalled how as a legislator and governor in the 1970s and 1980s, there was no more critical an issue than our cities. And he hopes that urgency will return.
“What could be more important after the riots than putting Newark and our other cities back together?” Kean said of his first years in the Legislature. “I sponsored the first urban aid bill, I sponsored the [Education Opportunity Fund] … Urban enterprise zones, safe streets, a lot of education. It was an urban agenda. As a legislator and governor, there was always an urban agenda.”
That theme will also be explored in the culminating discussion among gubernatorial hopefuls and other leaders, as well as in an interactive session beforehand in which conference-goers will help determine the questions.
Other prominent speakers will include:
Carol Coletta, a national expert in urban affairs from the Kresge Foundation in Michigan;
Top executives from United Airlines, Campbell Soup, and Audible.com discussing the corporate role in urban revitalization; and
Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage sharing his experience when terrorism came to his home city just over a week ago.
Also on the program is a discussion on the resurgence of community schools as a tool of education reform — with Baraka on the panel — and a look at the lead crisis still dogging our cities after three decades.
We’ll take a look at how the cities are faring when it comes arts education. A special feature: young filmmakers from Essex Vocational Schools will screen their documentary about growing up in the cities.
And mayors and other city leaders will share their views regarding pressure from developers on the panel, “Gentrification: From Urban to Urbane.”