A brighter day for Newark

By Trust for Public Land
Published September 30, 2015

A brighter day for Newark

You may remember Newark Riverfront Park—one of The Trust for Public Land's proudest "land for people" success stories of 2013. Today, we're thrilled to celebrate some big news for the park: it's the recipient of the Environmental Protection Agency's National Award for Smart Growth Achievement.

"[Riverfront Park] reconnects Newark to its river for the first time in decades," says the EPA. "It's attracting economic development in the adjacent downtown, giving a working-class neighborhood a beautiful and much-needed place to play and relax, and preserving open space along the river that can protect neighborhoods from flooding." 

In honor of the win, we sat down with longtime Newarker Marcy DePina, program director of Newark Riverfront Revival, to talk about how this innovative new green space is improving—and empowering—her city.  

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Q: This is an exciting win for Newark Riverfront Park! In what ways has the park changed the neighborhood? 

A: This area used to be filled with prostitution and drug trafficking. People were living along the river in boxes and containers. When your neighborhood is dirty and smelly, you feel that—and when it's landscaped and beautiful, you feel that, too. The park has made a huge difference—it gives people pride. Safety has increased and crime has been pushed out. 

Q: How are people using the park? 

A: People are always out there walking, running, biking, and throwing birthday parties. Soccer is popular in the Ironbound community, so the additional soccer fields are a huge added value. We have free movie nights, theater productions, dance and music events, open mic nights, networking events, art shows, and even chess tournaments.

Q: As a parent, it must feel great to be able to enjoy the river with your kids.  

A: Our children will have a totally different relationship with the Passaic. Now, it’s a destination point—for families, for date nights. It’s such a gift for people, young and old, who never imagined they would get to know their river. People can’t believe that this is Newark—it’s so peaceful and beautiful.

Q: Your organization, Newark Riverfront Revival, has been a key partner in making this park happen. Can you share some of the high points along the way? 

A: My greatest reward has been to meet the people who are impacted by this place. One man, in particular, I’ll never forget: he was so amazed by the space's transformation that it brought him to tears. This gentleman lives in a nearby housing project. When he was growing up, this area was basically a crime- and drug-riddled war zone. He said, "I never thought I’d ever see something as beautiful as Riverfront Park." That’s a powerful testament to the change this park is bringing to the community.

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