Crime spikes as weather warms in Newark

After recent surge of violence, Baraka announces plans to 'occupy' crime-plagued Newark blocks

Sobering, but sad to say not surprising. I had wondered if Baraka’s initial enthusiasm about improvements in crime had more to do with the unusually long winter than any initiatives undertaken by the city.

Earlier this year, Baraka touted a 40 percent drop in homicides and substantial declines in overall crime during the year's first quarter, compared with the same period in 2014.

But the arrival of spring has brought a spike in violence across the city, all but erasing the once-significant reductions.

As of March 29, Newark police had recorded just 15 murders, though shooting incidents as a whole were roughly on par with the year prior. In the weeks since, however, the number of homicides has more than doubled to 32. Statistics dated May 3 indicate that 113 people had been shot so far this year, a 26 percent increase over the first four months over 2014.

Small victory: Superintendent Cami Anderson meets with the local advisory board

As School District Simmers Over ‘One Newark’ Reforms, Both Sides Sit Down at Table

Stunning how little trust remains, that a meeting with no agreement is counted a victory.

As the public drama over Newark schools continues to swirl, a private meeting was held in the city’s Gateway Center this past Friday that at least by one account made some progress in the ongoing struggle over the state’s control of the district.

State Education Commissioner David Hespe met with leaders of the district’s local advisory board, as well as state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson, to discuss what has become a painstakingly slow process for returning local control.

And while there were no breakthroughs, according to board chairman Rashon Hasan, it was a step forward just to have the parties at the same table -- no small feat these days.

BURG finally set to open in Military Park next month

Team behind Jersey City's Maritime Parc going casual with Newark's BURG

After originally being slated to open in August 2014, BURG is finally set to open in May in Military Park. Should be a great addition to an already stunning downtown hotspot.

Siversen went through 100 different blends before perfecting the BURG patty, which mixes chuck with a bit of short rib and brisket. Then, he came up with seven combinations of his favorite ingredients to form the core of BURG's menu.

Also on the menu at BURG will be salads, shoestring fries, frozen drinks and craft beer and wine on tap from small local breweries. We were also delighted to learn that the ricotta doughnuts are coming along to Newark, too, where they will be served with sugar toppings in paper bags.

Siversen said BURG, which will allow customers to order food to go or sit down and enjoy their eats, will be a perfect mix of casual and sophisticated.

"It's a high-end burger concept and we'll be giving fast food some sophistication," said Siversen. "It's going to be fast food, but real food."

(I'd be curious to know from any knowledgable Newarkers what was the cause of the ten month delay.)

Waaaaait for it: the still-empty future site of BURG in Military Park

Waaaaait for it: the still-empty future site of BURG in Military Park

Documentary to explore the toll of the 2007 Newark schoolyard slayings on family

Film to Probe Newark Schoolyard Murders' Toll on Family

On Aug 4, 2007, three college-age Newarkers were murdered and a fourth nearly killed after having been attacked on the playground of Mount Vernon School in Newark.

For a blogger trying to cover the story of a city in resurgence, it was difficult for me to even consider about how to approach the subject. The crime was not a gang warfare-related premeditated attack. It didn't fit a pattern of violence for a comparatively peaceful neighborhood. It was just senseless evil, carried out on citizens of our city.

There was no lack of coverage of the event as national media trucks rolled into Newark to put some semblance of a narrative together that explained why these kids with promising futures lost their lives. I just didn’t write anything.

So it's with great admiration that I can link to a story about someone who was willing to unflinchingly cover not only the incident of Aug 4th, but the personal toll it took on the family of Iofemi Hightower.

For what seemed a small eternity, Shalga Hightower epitomized the picture of parental grief in the aftermath of Newark's 2007 schoolyard killings, when a group of men and boys, including one who turned 15 that day, lined up her college-bound daughter and two friends and shot them each in the back of the head.

As national media held Newark up as a symbol of the gun violence plaguing American cities, Hightower became an unwavering presence at the dozens of court proceedings that followed. Her courtroom vigil stretched nearly six years, long after the initial crush of attention subsided.

The overpowering sorrow that engulfed her has eased over time, but Hightower's determination to honor her daughter's memory has not. Recently, she embarked on a documentary film project that highlights the struggle of families victimized by gun violence, through the prism of her own experience.

Newark public school teachers to protest superintendent’s latest school reforms

Newark teachers union to launch 'informational picket lines' in protest of superintendent

Teachers will be picketing during hours when they would normally be “volunteering” extra time towards their jobs.

Abeigon said that starting Tuesday the teachers will begin taking efforts to no longer work before or after their work day ends and to clock in and out at the same time.

The union issued a host of concerns about Anderson's leadership of the district including her recent announcement that nine schools will become "turnaround schools" during the next school year in an effort to curb struggling performance.

The designation will mean that teachers will be asked to sign election-to-work agreements, which may require them to work for a longer school day, go through two additional weeks of professional development in the summer and work on multiple Saturdays, according to assistant superintendent Brad Haggerty.

Under the contract, teachers are paid an additional stipend of $3,000 a year for the extra time.

Newark installs first-ever anti-idling sign

Living next to a popular restaurant in the Ironbound, this issue in particular is near and dear to my heart. Cars, trucks and ambulances are frequently idling outside our apartment windows, which is great for foot traffic on our block, but not so great for noise.

(Apparently there's an exception to the NJ three-minute idling limit statute for vehicles "actively performing" emergency services, but I wonder if stopping for lunch fits that definition?)

Baraka addresses education, crime, and development in Bloomberg TV interview

Good overview on where Baraka sees the city today and his administration's goals. (Though a four-and-a-half minute TV interview is hardly the place for anything deeper than a sound bite.)

The mayor was also asked about his opinion on governor Christie's potential run for president and was decidedly circumspect with his reply. Compare/contrast with the bolder statements from his chief of staff earlier this week.

Why did the Newark school board election yesterday matter? One word: politics.

In Newark, school board election chance to cement Baraka-Fulop alliance, flex machine muscle

It’s a well-known fact that the Newark school system has been under state control since 1995, and that Cami Anderson, the district's embattled, state-appointed superintendent, has been able to enact her One Newark education plan despite significant community resistance.

So, some might have been left asking why yesterday’s school board election mattered at all. PolitickerNJ followed the mayor’s chief of staff, Amiri Baraka, around the campaign that vaulted the mayor’s candidates to victory.

That victory, while minor in the eyes of residents, speaks to the ambitions of the NJ Democratic political machine.

“We’ve got to tell them that we’ve got to get rid of [Governor Chris Christie]. We’ve won on the local level. Now we’ve got to go to the state level,” Baraka said. “We’ve got to get a new governor.”

Sitting next to Baraka as he made these remarks was Jason Solowsky, a political operative tied to Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop. Fulop played an important supporting role in Ras Baraka’s 2014 Newark mayoral race victory. In this year’s Newark school board election, Solowsky and Amiri Baraka confirmed that about 70 Fulop campaign workers parachuted in from Jersey City to help out the Baraka-backed slate.

Amiri Baraka further confirmed the fact that his brother and Fulop, a potential 2017 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, continue to work together for both present and future reasons.

“This is a changing of the guard. We’re sharpening our sword for the next big day. We can’t predict the future, but we know where we’re going to be – out in the street with thousands of people. We follow the drill, Ras is the leader, and I’m the number one soldier.”

Seventy campaign workers. On loan for a school board election.

Results are in for the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board election

Newark mayor-backed school board candidates lead race reports the results:

His name wasn't on the ballot but Newark Mayor Ras Baraka had an influence this election.

The Baraka-backed candidates including current board member Marques Aquil-Lewis and newcomers Dashay Carter and Crystal Fonseca appear to have taken the school board election this year, according to the Essex County Clerk's unofficial results.

Forbes thinks vertical farming is a “crackpot idea”

Newark Subsidizes A Crackpot Idea: Vertical Farming

Counterpoint to the article I posted yesterday on the vertical farm coming to Newark. Given the relative newness of the field, I’m not sure such negativity from Forbes is warranted.

It’s possible that because this is such a young industry that opportunities to scale haven’t been fully explored. And Beyer dismisses transportation costs with hand-waving—a not insubstantial cost of farming, especially if you're bullish on oil prices increasing over the next few years.

But the economics seem unworkable. Businesses or governments wishing to run vertical farms would first have to buy land in major cities, where real estate is sold at premiums. They would spend millions on the approval costs required for development. They would throw enormous sums—nowadays in the billions—to construct mega-towers. And then they would have to further address the challenge of growing food indoors, which requires sophisticated lighting, irrigation, and retention systems.

It would be difficult for vertical farmers to cover all these costs by selling a bunch of $2 cucumbers, especially when competing with traditional (or “horizontal”) farmers. There is a reason, after all, that farming occurs in rural areas: land there is abundant and cheap.

Innovative Better Block movement comes to Newark

Better Block Newark coming to Bergen Street

Tamera at Newark Pulse highlights a new planning effort taking place to overhaul one of the city blocks on Bergen Street.

Newark is hosting their first “Better Block” event to breathe life into the Bergen Street commercial corridor. This project is part of the Better Block movement, which started in Dallas – it temporarily revisions an area to show its potential to create a vibrant, neighborhood center.

The City of Newark has partnered with community groups and NJIT architecture students to temporarily transform the physical space of a city block on Bergen Street so the community can see and experience what a redeveloped Bergen Street could be. The event will be June 6, from 12-6pm (rain date of June 7).

From the Better Block Newark About page of their website:

The Better Block model is about immediate, highly visible and grassroots-based project that transform a block and eventually a neighborhood. Better Block: Bergen Street will take 1-2 block(s) of Bergen Street and give it a make-over. This is a collaborative effort that will involve residents, business owners, local artists, contractors, entrepreneurs and city officials.

It seems like the city is onto something with this approach.

The Ironbound will soon be home to one of the country’s largest vertical farms

In Newark, a Vertical Indoor Farm Helps Anchor an Area’s Revival

Long-time Newarkers may think of our city as the home of many surprisingly wonderful things, but this is something completely different.

Vertical farming. In Newark.

A former Grammer, Dempsey and Hudson steel plant in the Ironbound section of Newark is being razed by the RBH Group to make way for a giant custom-built complex for its sole tenant, AeroFarms, a company producing herbs and vegetables in an indoor, vertical environment. Instrumental in reviving parts of Newark, the RBH Group sees the venture as a way to create jobs, clear a shabby block and supply a healthy, locally grown food source.

There’s some familiar names in here.

Previously, both Goldman and Prudential teamed with RBH on Teachers Village in Newark, a $160 million project that is creating a mix of schools, apartments and stores from a patchwork of warehouses and parking lots.

Also interesting: creating a farm in a space and neighborhood that was previously used for heavy industrial use doesn’t come without challenges.

One reason that Newark, and especially the Ironbound section, may be so affordable is its legacy of pollution. Crisscrossed by truck routes and flight paths, the Ironbound also was the home of a federal Superfund site where Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant, was manufactured in the mid-20th century; the site has since been cleaned up.

Similarly, over the years, toxins like lead have been discovered on the long block containing AeroFarms’ new farm. In fact, the swimming pool in an athletic center there had to be constructed on an upper floor, over fears that harmful chemicals could seep into the water, said Drew Curtis, a director of the Ironbound Community Corporation, a local nonprofit that has worked to remediate the area.

And because only four trucks will service the farm daily, AeroFarms is expected to have a light environmental footprint: “Every use at that site would have probably added truck traffic, but this will be far less than other uses,” Mr. Curtis said.

Encouraging to see the Ironbound Community Corporation, a long respected advocate for the neighborhood, come out in favor of this plan.

Happening today: Newark Public School Elections

Newark Public Schools elections (2015)

Newark is conducting its public schools election today. Ballotpedia, which is a stunningly informative resource, has the details:

Three seats on the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board are up for general election on April 21, 2015.

At-large incumbents Marques-Aquil Lewis, DeNiqua Matias and Rashied McCreary's seats are up for election, but only Lewis filed to seek re-election.

Lewis faces the following seven challengers: Natasha Alvarado, Veronica Branch, Dashay Carter, Crystal Fonseca, Ronnie Kellam, Charles Love III and Sheila Montague. Mayor Ras J. Baraka formed and endorsed the "Children First Team" slate of Lewis, Carter and Fonseca.

Michael Diaz and Ivan Holmes also filed to run in this election but will not appear on the ballot. Holmes withdrew from the race while Diaz was disqualified from it.

A stunning weekend in Branch Brook Park

Cherry Blossoms on Saturday

Cherry Blossoms on Saturday

Hundreds turn out to annual Bloomfest at Branch Brook Park in Newark

What a great weekend to walk through the park with family. Memories of our walk on Saturday are taking the edge off of today’s rainy weather.

Also, I didn't know this:

This Bloomfest marks the first since Essex County added 1,000 more trees to the Newark park in order to keep its title as the largest collection of cherry blossoms in the country.

Politico asks if Newark is the next Brooklyn

Is Newark the Next Brooklyn?

Politico looks into recent real estate developments downtown, focusing on the core along Halsey Street and Teachers Village.

Reporting on the development plans by developer Ron Beit gives a glimpse into what the city might look like a couple of years from now.

The 79 parcels include eight lots, or four acres, for Teachers Village, but are also part of a larger plan Beit calls SoMa, for South of Market Street. All told, the SoMa properties encompass 23 acres.

His “Four Corners” project hopes to add an additional 130 hotel rooms, 705 residential units and approximately 275,000 additional square feet of office and retail space on Newark’s historic Broad and Market intersection, which was once the epicenter of city’s robust shopping district. That project could cost over $400 million.

Beit’s “Makers Village” is slated to bring indoor, aeroponic farms to a three-acre industrial site in the Ironbound district. The funding for the Makers Village project was announced in early March; demolition has begun at the site and RBH is preparing the design phase of the Four Corners project now.

The more I read this article, though, the less I liked it. It ticked all the right boxes—citing a prominent Newark historian (the late Dr. Clem Price) and a successful tech entrepreneur (Audible CEO Don Katz), for example.

But nuanced issues like crime and the impact of downtown development on Newarkers are painted with a broad brush, a backdrop to the breathless real estate investment narrative.

Parts of the article even made Beit and investor Berggruen sound a bit like they're carpetbagging.

The first person Beit convinced to invest in that doughnut hole was financier Warren Lichtenstein and his firm, Steel Partners of New York City. Lichtenstein introduced Beit to Berggruen and the two went for a drive through Newark on a Sunday afternoon in 2005. Berggruen basically said “buy it all.” “He immediately got it,” Beit says.

Scenes from last night’s Price is Right live show at NJPAC

Behind the scenes of 'Price is Right Live!' in Newark

Fun. I grew up watching the Price is Right show on CBS with Bob Barker.

"The east coast crowds are certainly the loudest, the most passionate, the most engaged," Newton said. "We love coming here. I've told people the 'Price is Right Live!' show is a lot of game show mixed with a little old church revival and some rock and roll concert sprinkled on top."

Baristanet recommends some Newark events for family weekend fun

Weekend Highlights: Your Guide To Family Fun

Some Newark great offerings on this list from Branch Brook Park and a concert hosted by WBGO at the Newark Museum.

On Saturday from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM, visit Branch Brook Park (Park Street Entrance, Newark) for the Essex County Family Day. This day of outdoor fun in the recently renovated concert grove will feature hula hooping, paddle boats, a craft activity, face painting, and an assortment of food vendors. The Chris Clark BMX Stunt Show will be on the main stage at 11:30 AM and 1:30 PM. There will also be a fishing derby from 12:00 PM to 2:00 PM with an awards ceremony to follow at 2:30 PM. This event is free.

The WGBO Free Kids Jazz Concert Series continues with a performance of “She Said, She Says: the history & status of women in jazz” featuring Metta Quintet. This concert will celebrate the important achievements of female jazz composers, arrangers, instrumentalists, and vocalists from the early 20th century through today. The show will be held at the Newark Museum (49 Washington Street, Newark) at 12:30 PM. Tickets are first-come, first-served and include free admission to the Newark Museum after the performance.

It's going to be a lovely 79°F in the city on Saturday.