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Could Newark flower as eco-city?

By Diego Cupolo
The Star-Ledger

For Newark Mayor Cory Booker, promoting sustainable economic development in the city would not only reduce harm to the environment but would also address some of the city's major problems.

For Newark Mayor Cory Booker, promoting sustainable economic development in the city would not only reduce harm to the environment but would also address some of the city's major problems.

"Every one of our goals, if you look at them through a green lens, you realize that we can actually achieve more, achieve it better, achieve it in a more conscious way when it comes to our environment and achieve it in a more inexpensive way," Booker said.

During Newark's Green Future Summit, a two-day conference held Friday and Saturday at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Booker passionately argued that embracing environmentally friendly initiatives would create new jobs and affordable housing that could, potentially, reduce inner-city crime and employ struggling ex-convicts.

The idea echoed throughout the day as entrepreneurs from around the country shared their ideas with local community leaders in a city that is expected to make major investments in the upcoming decades.

Panel discussions focused on everything from increasing open spaces to green building, and moderators encouraged Newark residents to provide feedback on potential future projects.

During the conference, energy experts talked about the benefits of retrofitting existing buildings, a process would that create new, skilled jobs while reducing energy consumption. Others debated potential uses for brownfields, which can be cleaned up and redeveloped into recreational space.

Toni Griffin, director of Newark's Division of Planning and Community Development, also presented the Newark Master Plan Re-Examination: Shifting Forward 2025, showcasing the city's plans to renovate the Passaic River waterfront for public use and to plant 100,000 trees in the next 17 years.

Booker cited Baye Adofo-Wilson's work with the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District as an example on how to combine affordable housing with environmentally friendly construction. The LPCCD is planning on building a 300-unit eco-village - complete with solar power and green construction materials - in the historic Lincoln Park neighborhood, available to Newark residents at affordable prices.

Kate Gordon, co-director of the Apollo Alliance, a national group that helped organize the summit, said she believes Newark has potential to serve as a national model for green urban revitalization. She pointed out the city's port, industrial space, transportation accessibility and proximity to New York City as important factors in creating a 21st-century green economy.

"Both presidential candidates have shown support for putting a price on carbon emissions and this is going to change the economics of doing business," Gordon said. "The revenue created by that is going to need to be invested somewhere and Newark is in a great strategic location to benefit from this change."

Realizing the potential of an emerging green job market, Robert Robinson, of the Urban Environmental Institute, expressed concern over whether the new opportunities would be available to the city's working class residents.

During an economic development discussion, Robinson said electrician unions are currently lobbying to reserve all solar panel installations in New Jersey for certified electricians. He urged the audience to support policies that would ensure low-income residents are not excluded from the new green job market.

"I look at a person with a fourth-grade reading level, no high school diploma and a prison record and think: 'What can that person do and how can the green movement help them?'" Robinson said.

"Poor people cannot afford to miss out on the opportunities provided by the green movement," he added.

Ralph Izzo, chairman, president and chief executive officer of PSE&G, said the utility has formed partnerships with local educational facilities to help residents learn about energy related careers. For example, they helped create a Energy Utility Technology Degree program at Essex County College.

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