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“Community First!” Jack Tchen 9.25.2019

I wake up enjoying the warm crisp air of “Indian Summer.” Funny how such terms, so deeply inscribed, pop up out of my Midwestern childhood even as the adult in me knows better—to suspect the usage of such reference to First Nation peoples. Apparently the first published usage was with Crevecoeur writing from Orange County, NY around 1776 – “the invariable rule” was “great rains replenish the spring, the brooks, and impregnate the earth, then a severe frost succeeds, though it is often preceded by a short interval of smoke and mildness, called the Indian Summer.”*

I think of this “invariable rule” no longer holding as I read CityLab piece about a study of those 100 American cities most and least “resilient” to deal with the impacts of climate change. Newark doesn’t fare so well in study, conducted by an online real estate platform, correlating climate change preparedness to poverty rates. We are in good company though, Newark is right alongside LA and Miami. According to the study:

Newark in particular is among the most vulnerable metropolises. It is among the top five cities in the study that is likely to be compromised by an extreme cold event—a high “probability of six consecutive days in which the temperature falls below the 10th percentile of a city’s baseline period between 1950-1999”—which can also be triggered by climate change. Newark is also among the top five cities likely to experience extreme heat and sea-level rise impacts, both by 2040.**

Indexes for poverty, especially based on real estate measures, don’t factor in many important qualities of resilience in neighborhoods and beloved place, such as the network of community organizers working 24/7 and the knowhow, tenacity, and survival abilities of residents. Yet the news is sobering in terms of the statistical extreme weather patterns that might prove true.

I have lived in south Brooklyn since 1983, so I’m very aware how lower income parts of this vast metro region need “anchor institutions.” For Sunset Park, the Lutheran Hospital and lots of local organizing stayed with the neighborhood through tough times. Part of why I happily choose to come to this campus, leaving 22 years at NYU, is this city and this region have a generative mix of forward acting leadership, anchor institutions, and community organizations. In this way, Newark and greater Newark is very, very rich in a way that isn’t measured by the realtors’ calculations. We can forge fresh ways of addressing entrenched problems here. It should become a place of opportunity for all.

Scott Bernstein’s talk last week, see the attached slide deck, unpacks how cities the size of Newark have grappled with old lead service lines and reservoir maintenance problems against the bigger picture improving infrastructures for all residents in the face of rising costs, affordability, and climate changes. Highlighted is the potential conflict between short-term politics and policies versus foundational, long-term structural problems.

I write all this not for us to become more anxious and pessimistic, but for us to be more focused on what we at Rutgers-Newark and campuses in Newark can do. One thing is clear, we’ll need to collaborate with our different specializations as we never have before.

I just learned of Scott’s Center for Neighborhood Technology slogan “Communities First!” It’s saying fully in keeping with Professor Clement Price’s work over his lifetime dedicated to the people, neighborhoods, and city of Newark and the region. As the first Clement Price Chair of Public History and Humanities, I vow to keep that spirit alive in the work we do at the Price Institute.

*Adam Sweeting, Beneath the Second Sun: A Cultural History of Indian Summer, 2003, 14.

**Brentin Mock, “What U.S. Cities Facing Climate Disaster Risks Are Least Prepared?, CityLab, August 19, 2019 (