Also Highlights Achievements and Plans in Redevelopment, Recreation, and Housing
In his seventh annual State of the City address as mayor—and with the pandemic seemingly in his rearview mirror —Mayor Steven Fulop declared investing in open space to be his “personal priority” for 2022. He also gave outsize time during Tuesday’s 32-minute speech to various achievements and plans in the areas of redevelopment, recreation, and housing.
“I think we all can agree that this pandemic has opened our eyes to the importance of open space more so than ever before,” Fulop said early on his presentation. “Parks are no longer a luxury … rather they have become a necessity….That’s why I’m pleased to announce the launch of a new year-long initiative in 2022 called ‘The Year of Open Space,’ he added before declaring investing in open space to be his “personal priority because the return on these investments is invaluable.”
While the mayor offered no specifics in terms of the budget for such an initiative or the location of the new sites or the extent to which the new lands would feature trees and plants rather than ballfields and cement malls, he did say his goal was to create “more innovative, non-traditional open spaces … such as pocket parks, pedestrian malls, plazas, and other open areas.”
Mayor Fulop went on to list a number of parks he said the city had created under his administration. “Access to open space improves residents’ mental and physical health, it improves property values, it improves environmental impacts, it increases community engagement and other intangible benefits,” he explained.
The mayor’s speech was also notable for its discussion of redevelopment—particularly in areas “away from the waterfront,” a phrase he used repeatedly. With help in narration from Jersey City Director of Housing, Economic Development, and Commerce Annisia Cialone, Fulop drew attention to two projects: Bayfront and Journal Square.
“Today, we continue to build on the promise I made to you eight years ago when I first took office … to attract interest and development away from the waterfront and help realize Jersey City’s full potential in each of our neighborhoods,” he said.
In the context of Bayfront, Cialone mentioned the city’s passage in 2021 of an inclusionary zoning ordinance requiring developers to set aside 10 to 15 percent of new units as “affordable.” Indeed, the IZO was mentioned multiple times during the mayor’s speech.
When discussing Journal Square, the mayor talked about the substance of those projects—the opening of a satellite of the Parisian museum Centre Pompidou and the renovation of the Loew’s theater—while also enthusing about what those projects would do for Jersey City’s world image.
The Centre Pompidou, he said, would consist of “highlights of Europe’s largest art collection” and put Jersey City (and New Jersey) “on the global stage.” He said the Loew’s “will compete with NYC venues attracting big talent and regional audiences while also setting the stage for aspiring local performers.”
Throughout his speech, Mayor Fulop yielded the spotlight to his department heads. Director of the Department of Recreation and Youth Development Lucinda McLaughlin ticked off a list of accomplishments including building a retractable roof above the swimming pool at Pershing Field (which had been in the works for 20 years, she said) and, in response to Covid-19, having greatly expanded the number of activities the department now runs for young people.
“We had basketball, soccer, boxing, track. You name it, we were running it, and our programs were filled with youth getting up getting moving, getting away from their screens enjoying the city,” McLaughlin said.
According to McLaughlin the city now serves 8,000 children in Jersey City either as their employer for summer jobs or as the sponsor of an athletic program or other leisure activity. Also in 2021, she said, the city increased its recreational programming for children with special needs.
The mayor together with the executive director of the Jersey City Housing Authority, Vivian Brady-Phillips, also detailed the many initiatives the Housing Authority runs. Characterizing the authority’s work as “affordable housing plus,” Brady-Phillips mentioned the many services the authority provides such as senior “congregant” meals and the numerous partnerships the authority has with organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club, Head Start, and Aerofarm—all in the name of “community services and community empowerment.” Indeed, Aerofarms, which operates indoor vertical gardening facilities, was mentioned twice and at length during the mayor’s address. The city contracted with Aerofarms for approximately $1 million in June 2020 to establish ten sites throughout the city.
Mayor Fulop also addressed taxes, governance, public safety, and infrastructure improvements (among other broad topics) during his speech. He reminded residents that they received a tax cut in 2021, describing it as “one of our greatest accomplishments” during this past year.
Early in the address he also announced a pilot budgeting program that would “directly involve residents in the city’s spending decisions,” he said.
“We want you, the residents, to tell us which community projects you want to see funded. Our team will convert the community-driven ideas into concrete proposals with defined, scope timeline, and cost. We’re committed to making the municipal budgeting process more accessible and transparent,” he added.
Mayor Fulop spent considerable time discussing public safety and heralded beefed-up police and fire departments and the appointment of the city’s first Black woman to head the police department, among other things, as major accomplishments during 2021. He did not discuss the city’s crime rate. According to FBI data, crime increased over 15 percent during Mayor Fulop’s first two terms.
Finally, Mayor Fulop presented an update on the state of Jersey City’s infrastructure mentioning throughout his address what he considered the importance of sustainability and “green” initiatives. Examples of the city’s commitment to these principles were the city’s new added bike lanes and electric vehicle charging stations, its fleet of electric garbage trucks, its “resiliency master plan,” and its new underground sewer infrastructure to prevent flooding.