A team of architecture students from New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) is helping to redevelop one of the state’s oldest cities: Paterson.
The students, all of whom attend the New Jersey School of Architecture (NJSOA) at NJIT, recently briefed Paterson officials on their plan to redesign nine neighborhoods in the city. And on May 17, starting at 6:30 p.m., the students will present their plan to the Paterson City Council.
“I congratulate NJIT and these students for their hard work to identify redevelopment needs and opportunities as well as to reinvigorate housing in Paterson,” said Susan Bass Levin, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. “If we are to preserve our quality of life in New Jersey, we must work together to strategically manage growth. Through this innovative partnership between Paterson and NJIT, the students have gained valuable experience in the complexities and benefits of urban redevelopment, while providing Paterson with a fresh perspective on how to grow smart for a better future.”
The 18 students spent the semester conducting an extensive study of housing in Paterson and issued a series of recommendations to guide the city’s future development. The study is meant to serve as a guide to city officials as they plot the city's redevelopment. Their work is part of the Paterson Research Initiative, a two-year project of the School of Architecture’s Infrastructure Planning Program.
Saudha Backer, of Kearny, an NJIT student who worked on the Paterson initiative, said in working on the project she and fellow students gained invaluable experience.
“It’s been really great seeing the redesign process in action and learning how the components of a real project actually work,” Backer said. “We went to Paterson so many times and talked to residents about their views of the city. We looked at planning principles, design, transportation issues and how to bring an identity to the city. It was a rewarding, real-life project and I had the sense that I was doing something really worthwhile. We felt like we were really contributing to the city of Paterson.”
The initiative aims to spur Paterson’s redevelopment by having the students do research and offer the directives needed to implement a vision of positive change for the city, said Tony Santos, a professor in NJSOA and the director of the Infrastructure Planning Program at NJIT. “The focus is to provide overall planning measures that will guide the city in a various short-term and long-term directions,” said Santos.
The initiative is funded by the state Office of Smart Growth and the Regional Plan Association’s New Jersey office and supported by Paterson Mayor Jose (Joey) Torres.
Gary Melchiano, Paterson’s acting director of community development, said the NJIT students provided some “great ideas to the city.”
“The students’ plan for how to improve housing, transportation and infrastructure is great stuff,” said Melchiano.
The students’ study focused on improving nine areas of the city. They surveyed three of the city’s wards that are slated for redevelopment. The students proposed rebuilding the streetscape and rerouting dead-end streets to improve the flow of people and traffic through the neighborhoods. In the downtown district, the students suggested building mixed-income housing and encircling the district with a green ribbon of parking spaces, known as parking parks. For the River Main area, the students recommended improving the housing stock and adding more parks. And in the city’s industrial corridor, the students called for expanding the farmers' market, converting old warehouses into lofts, apartments and offices, and building a light rail link from St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center to the New Jersey Transit Main Line. The neighborhood that houses the medical center could also be turned into a medical complex, filled with offices for doctors and other health-care providers.
The students also proposed that the city build three small transit communities, which would be anchored and vitalized by the planned Bergen-Passaic light rail line. In each transit village, the student plan called for a mix of apartments, duplexes, single-family houses and pedestrian-shopping precincts that would bring vitality to what is now an area of vacant lots and derelict buildings.
NJIT students spent two semesters working in Paterson, and students will continue to study the city for two more semesters, Santos said. In the fall semester, the students will design a mobility plan for the city. The students’ research will focus on public transportation, transit-oriented development and the creation of a medical and academic center around St. Joseph’s Medical Center, said Santos.
In the past, NJIT students have done similar research projects for other New Jersey towns including Riverside, Newark, Lincoln Park, Jersey City, Florence-Roebling and Pleasantville. The projects are an integral part of the student’s infrastructure planning studio. Besides offering a service to communities and promoting new strategies for improving the urban environment, Santos said, the projects allow students to deal directly with real issues in actual situations and to become involved in the process of devising solutions to complex urban problems.
“Because of funding and the magnitude of the redevelopment,” said Melchiano, “not all of the students’ ideas will be implemented. But they have come up with a great plan that will help guide the city’s future development. “The mayor and council will certainly take a lot of their ideas into consideration when moving forward on redevelopment plans. NJIT is the best educational institution and its students have helped not just Paterson but many other communities. Having the students study Paterson has been such a plus for NJIT, for Paterson and for the state.”