Riverfront Park with Orange Boardwalk Breathes New Life Into Newark, NJ

Curators’ Corner

Riverfront Park with Orange Boardwalk Breathes New Life Into Newark, NJ

Long plagued by corruption, poor city planning, violence and a struggling economy, Newark, New Jersey has something to get excited about.

After more than five years of fundraising and development, Newark Riverfront Park is now open. An 800-foot-long fluorescent orange boardwalk highlights a completed Phase 2 of the project, which also includes a floating pier and four acres of open public space with walking and bike trails. Phase 1, a $15 million recreation complex, was completed last summer.

Courtesy of the New York Times

Riverfront Park reunites the city with the Passaic River waterfront, an area that had previously only welcomed toxic chemicals. For more than two decades, Newark residents have implored city officials to create public space along the river; they even held public demonstrations back in the 1990s, WNYC says.

The new park site was once a dioxin dumping ground for the now defunct Diamond Shamrock Chemicals Company, makers of Agent Orange. Park development workers had to remove and replace 3,700 tons of contaminated soil, said Adrian Benepe, director of city park development at the Trust for Public Land, according to the Star-Ledger.

“A former factory site, a brownfield next to a Superfund site. A lot of people would run from that,” Benepe said, beaming with pride for the city’s new attraction.

Courtesy of Newark Riverfront Revival

It’s a small step for a reeling city, but it’s at least one in the right direction, nonetheless.

“This park means for the first time in more than a century, Newark residents get down to the edge of the river,” Benepe told WCBS 880′s Jim Smith.

Courtesy of Newark Riverfront Revival

Newark planning director Damon Rich says the plan is to expand the park with paths through downtown to residential neighborhoods. Further challenges indeed await, though. As Newark Mayor Cory Booker campaigns for U.S. Senate, the project – far from finished – will be left in the hands of a city notorious for poor governance.

“Whether early successes with the park will propel the project onward, whoever ends up in charge, is an obvious question,” writes Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times.

Kimmelman also said landscape architect and park designer Lee Weintraub told him that orange was picked as the color for the boardwalk “after eliminating various gang-related colors.”

For now, Newark Riverfront Park serves as a glimmer of revival where such is sorely needed. And that unmissable orange boardwalk made from recycled materials can be seen from trains rumbling through Newark Penn Station, just 15 minutes from NYC.

Courtesy of Newark Riverfront Revival

“This park is not going to stop here,” said Mayor Booker at a ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the park’s official opening. “It is going to roll up and down the mighty Passaic.”

We’re rooting for you, Newark.