NJ Future Forum Focuses on Retaining Millennials, Infrastructure

NJ Spotlight News | March 10, 2017 | Politics
policy and decision makers, academics, government leaders and others were invited to share ideas for the future.

By Michael Hill

At this New Jersey Future forum, the future is now if South Orange Village exemplifies how to engage citizens in a data-driven, connected world.

“We have various interactive software platforms for people to submit service requests or answer questions that the town poses abou what do you want to name a new park, what type of playground equipment, to development projects,” said Sheena Collum, village president of South Orange Village.

One redevelopment focus here: enticing millennials to stay in New Jersey and not move to places like Denver.

“My daughter is one of them,” said Clinton Mayor Janice Kovach.

Clinton’s mayor says, yes millennials need jobs, but they also need affordable housing. Her town is building some so they can stay put.

“We’re trying to be smart about what we offer and what we build and we’re doing small little developments. We have one that’s a 35 unit apartment building right next to the library, still walkable to the community and it has a 20 percent affordable component to it,” Kovach said.

Part of the millennial equation — building a vibrant downtown. Asbury Park is still doing it after artist Patrick Schiavino became a pioneering developer.

“Where there’s a need you fill the void,” Schiavino said.

James Hughes, dean of the Bloustein School, said, “The world as we knew it has been turned upside on its head. The great era of suburbanization that defined the second half of the twentieth century is now rapidly attenuating. Instead we have a re-centraliztion of economic growth, a re-centralization of job growth. Green field development is out, redevelopment is in.”

NJ Future invited hundreds of policy and decision makers, academics, government leaders and others to hear and share ideas for the future.

Smart Growth America’s Geoff Anderson urged listeners to pay attention to and let Washington know their concerns. He warned of the federal threats to redevelopment and the plan to slash federal spending by the billions while, as the American Society of Civil Engineers warned this week, the nation’s infrastructure is in crisis.

“There is just incredibly little willingness to raise any new money. And the way we’ve done the last couple transportation bills has basically been through budget gimmicks and other things, not by actually raising any new money,” Anderson said.

“We’re applying old policies to new problems,” said former Governor Jim Florio.

Florio says New Jersey’s next governor will not be able to rely on Washington for much help.

“We’re in uncharted waters. The federal government is clearly not going to be supportive of the states. The states are going to have to be on their own. And more and more the problems that the states are facing are not state problems — they’re national problems. Infrastructure is a national problem. Unaffordable college is a national problem. These things are going to require the federal government to be helpful and it doesn’t appear to be what’s happening out of Washington,” he said.

In this election year, NJ Future has some recommendations for the next governor: incorporate climate-risk in decision making, support good local redevelopment and invest wisely in infrastructure.