Summer in the City
Detroit and Newark are still recovering from the violence that erupted 40 years ago
In contrast, the epicenter of Newark's violence shows noticeable progress. The city has seen a surge in middle-class townhousesaided by the cut-rate sale of city land that contributed to a fraud indictment for former Mayor Sharpe James last week. The towering housing project across from the 4th Precinct has been replaced with cozier homes, and business is returning as well. Morris Spielberg, who had to be secreted out of his furniture store by his black employees during the riots, reopened and stayed until the city bought him out for redevelopment that now includes, appropriately, an Applebee's. "If you went through the riots there, you would never believe that it would turn out that way," he says.
Gaining ground. There are other signs that Newark, however troubled it remains, has left Detroit behind. While the percent of Newark's population below the poverty line has dropped since 2000, the Motor City's has increased. Newark's unemployment is still nearly double the national rate, but it pales in comparison to Detroit's jobless rate of 13.7 percent. "Each of these two cities has been the poster child for urban problems in the second half of the 20th century," says Kenneth T. Jackson, a history professor at Columbia University. "Newark no longer is. Detroit probably still is."
As they did in 1967, residents of both cities continue to register their views with their feet. Bucking decades of population loss, Newark actually grew by 3.3 percent between 2000 and 2006, enough in the anemic northeast to make it the region's fastest-growing major city. Detroit, by contrast, just posted the fifth-highest population loss in the country.
"We weren't the only city that exploded in riots in the 1960s," says Newark's Mayor Cory Booker, a former Rhodes scholar whose election in 2006 brought a wave of optimism. "But you can darn well be sure that in the next five to 10 years, Newark is going to show a way out of the dark cloud that still hangs over this nation's dream."
But progress is relative. On the street, evidence of the city's perennial struggles, especially its 25 percent poverty rate, is hard to ignore. The construction of the Prudential Center, new home of the New Jersey Devils hockey team, is promising. But like the much-touted New Jersey Performing Arts Center, it will be an outlier in an area still dominated by nail salons and pawnshops. Booker recently warned that the city's grim budget situation could cost it up to a fifth of its workforce. And in 2006, the city recorded its highest number of homicides106in a decade. It's perhaps no wonder that 48 percent of residents polled by the Newark Star-Ledger said they would leave the city if they could.
"We hope for better things. It shall rise from its ashes," proclaims Detroit's motto, evoking the mythical phoenix in referring to an 1805 fire that destroyed the then fledging settlement. That time, the city did recover, becoming a global center that churned out middle-class residents as systematically as it did Model T's.