“New Jersey is a state of abundant resources and a high quality of life,”72 the second State Development and Redevelopment Plan proclaimed optimistically in 2001.
Much has changed over the subsequent 16 years, including fundamental shifts in the state’s economy, environment, and political landscape. Now New Jersey is at a crossroads. Housing markets are changing, with a growing desire for denser, walkable communities in both urban and suburban parts of the state.73 Yet opportunities are limited because housing and land-use planning policies at all levels of government failed to keep up with these changes and the need for climate resiliency was ignored. At the same time, New Jersey remains one of the most expensive places in the nation to rent or own a home and people at the lower end of the income spectrum are particularly vulnerable to housing instability.
Despite these challenges, New Jersey has a basis for pursuing a better-planned future. In addition to aging baby boomers, millennials, and immigrants rejecting far-flung exurbs in favor of cities and older suburban communities with transit and mixed-use downtowns, businesses are establishing offices or moving facilities to places of sufficient density and pools of potential job seekers.74 It is no surprise, then, that Hudson County saw an 11% spike in population75 from 2005-09 to 2010-15, after the loss of more than 90,000 people from 1950 to 1980.76
Research demonstrates that more-compact communities provide opportunities to reduce the production of carbon and promote health and safety.78 Increasingly, 20th-century land-use patterns, high housing costs, and the decline of public investment in cities impede economic growth by not reflecting present-day needs.
The next few years offer an opportunity for transformative change if New Jersey invests in its cities and suburban and rural centers and provides for a variety and choice of housing in climate-resilient, integrated communities with economic and educational opportunity. But we cannot just wish for transformative change to happen. We must act and make the necessary investments to make sure New Jersey is a state where everyone can live, work, and prosper.