Launched in 2012, Great Places in New Jersey recognizes unique and exemplary downtowns, streets, neighborhoods and public spaces – four essential components of exceptional communities. These places thrive as testaments to forward-thinking planning that promotes community involvement, showcases unique natural features and diverse architectural styles, fosters economic opportunity and a vision for tomorrow. This year, APA-NJ is pleased to announce the addition of 3 downtowns and 3 public spaces as 2016 designees.
Red Bank sits on the banks of the Navesink River, 8 miles upriver from Sandy Hook Bay and the Atlantic Ocean and has been characterized as the “gateway to the Jersey Shore.” It’s a major stop on New Jersey Transit’s North Jersey Coast Line, which doubles as a conduit for workweek commuters bound for New York City and city dwellers bound for the beach on summer weekends.
Downtown Red Bank, now celebrating its 25th anniversary, is an eclectic mix of restaurants, galleries, antique shops, retail establishments, theaters, entertainment venues, personal service providers, modern amenities, boating and fishing, and seasonal outdoor fairs and festivals. This 20-square-block area is peppered with just enough grit to keep it real, making Red Bank a regional destination. Upper stories of street-front buildings host professionals including lawyers, accountants, financial planners, advertising and marketing professionals, developers and builders, architects, and photographers. Red Bank supports a workforce of 12,000, many of whom shop, dine, and play in town before, during, and after work.
Throughout the year, Red Bank’s businesses draw customers to town through a range of promotions and events, including the award-winning Red Bank Wedding Walk, Girls Night Out, Restaurant Week, the annual Red Bank Sidewalk Sale, and the Red Bank Food and Wine Walk.
Downtown Somerville has long been referred to as “Somerset County’s Downtown” and although only 6 blocks in length, it is a hub of economic and community activity, largely driven by the downtown core. Long at the forefront of good planning, it is the sixth oldest Special Improvement District in New Jersey, a designated and nationally-certified Main Street New Jersey Community and a designated Transit Village. As the county seat for Somerset County, Downtown Somerville benefits from a significant and stable daytime population that swells over 30,000 workers. The downtown is a successful blend of historic architecture dating to the late 1800’s and new construction ranging from modest in-fill development to large scale redevelopment projects. In total, Downtown Somerville boasts an impressive one million square feet of commercial and residential space.
The Downtown Somerville Alliance has enjoyed a long and successful working relationship with municipal officials especially as it relates to infrastructure projects. The DSA received a $600,000 Downtown Business Improvement Zone loan from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs to reconstruct 2 major municipal lots, reconstructed Division Street which was once plagued with high vacancy rates. In 2012, Somerville celebrated the long anticipated ground-breaking of a $70 million mixed-use Somerville Town Center. And currently under construction is The Colbalt, a residential project on the outer edge of the downtown that will bring an additional 117 housing units and 96,000 square feet of mixed-use development.
But Somerville is not just about the big development. Investment by individual property owners and ‘mom and pop’ owners has earned Somerville the reputation of being friendly to small business. Over 60 new businesses have opened in the Downtown since 2012 with a vacancy rate of less than 3%.
Founded in 1865 on the banks of the Raritan River, Clinton is a historic and charming downtown, considered a cultural center and popular tourist destination. Anchored by the iconic Red Mill Museum Village landmark, downtown Clinton provides a unique blend of over 80 friendly small businesses, locally owned shops, restaurants, and services, and the Hunterdon Art Museum – all surrounded by beautiful countryside.
Downtown Clinton is supported and marketed by The Clinton Guild, a not-for-profit group of local businesses formed in 1972 whose mission is to promote this unique village and all it has to offer to residents and visitors alike.
Clinton hosts over 100 annual events, many that attract large out-of-town crowds each year. For Dickens’ Days, the most notable event, held on the weekend following Thanksgiving, the Town transforms itself into a Victorian Village. In the summer, visitors can enjoy “Come Together” Friday nights, and the Taste of Clinton in the spring.
Great Public Spaces
Roosevelt Plaza Park, Camden County
Roosevelt Plaza Park is the symbol of a new downtown City of Camden. It’s central location, in the heart of the City of Camden, at a crossroads for thousands of residents, students, employees and visitors, is a critical connection point. It links the City’s growing, and thriving, downtown education and medical district. It is located between two of the most heavily trafficked streets in the downtown, Market St. and Federal St., and is adjacent to the City Hall PATCO station, along the high speed train line between Southern New Jersey and Philadelphia, and the Walter Rand Transportation Center, the central hub for bus transportation in Camden. At the doorstep of the beautiful Camden City Hall, the most well-known building in the city, Roosevelt Plaza Park functions as the premiere civic space in Camden.
The park has provided much needed space for community events such as fall festivals, community movie nights, and holiday tree lighting ceremonies. In September, the park will play host to the first ever Camden Jam: The Camden Arts and Music Festival, an event that is part of the growing movement to bring arts and culture back to the city. Roosevelt Plaza Park is unique because it is a mixing ground for residents, workers, and students in the City of Camden. The park’s tables and benches offer a shaded place for a conversation or a meal, and the wide open grass spaces allow children to play sports or fly kites, an opportunity not commonly available in high density downtowns. Even more, two recent “pop-‐up” parks in Roosevelt Plaza Park have brought new life to the park, and made the place truly deserving of the title “Great Place in New Jersey.” (Any more detail to add about the pop-up parks?)
Memorial Park, Maplewood
Memorial Park is Maplewood’s beloved 25-acre multi-use park in the center of town, easily accessible from just about every corner of the community by foot, bicycle or car. It is steps away from Maplewood Village, the community’s award-winning commercial area and adjacent to a NJ Transit train station.
Through its programming, Memorial Park is as an open community meeting space that reflects and serves the diversity of the community and the broader public across age, racial, sexual orientation and economic lines – a community “melting pot.” Memorial Park effortlessly blends the use and characteristics of a local park – where children meet and play – with high quality attractions that draw visitors from across the tristate region.
From April through November, Memorial Park is alive with music, cultural and civic festivals, sports games and tournaments, and celebrations. Among Memorial Park’s acclaimed offerings are Maplewoodstock, the two-day music festival headlined by internationally-known music acts like Norah Jones and the Wailers, and Maplewood’s Memorial Day and 4th of July celebrations, all of which attract thousands of guests. Throughout the spring and summer, Memorial Park is the site of annual events that have become a mainstay: Green Day promotes sustainability and environmental awareness; the Maplewood Loves Wellness Fair promotes health and wellness; the Cultural Heritage Festival celebrates cultural diversity; and the North Jersey Pride Festival draws from statewide to celebrate diversity and promote equality.
Middlesex Greenway, Middlesex County
The Middlesex Greenway is a picturesque open space resource within the communities of Metuchen, Edison, and Woodbridge. Situated on a historic portion of Lehigh Valley rail corridor, this 3.5 mile long, 42-acre corridor was purchased by the County of Middlesex in 2002 as a rails-to-trails project for recreational use. The Middlesex Greenway provides a 10-foot wide, paved trail suitable for walking, biking and jogging. Several fully accessible entrances provide access along the entire length of the trail, connecting a diverse array of neighborhoods to area parks, schools and shopping.
Within one mile of the greenway, users can find over twenty parks that contain amenities beyond physical recreation. Roosevelt Park is among the largest and most programmed of the nearby parks, containing playing fields, tennis courts, basketball courts, picnic groves, playgrounds, a lake and an ice skating rink. Plays-in-the-Park at Roosevelt Park features three full-scale Broadway-style musicals each summer at the park amphitheater. Located west of the greenway is the Dismal Swamp, a large conservation area that is home to over 175 species of birds and features walking trails. A portion of the Middlesex Greenway is also part of the East Coast Greenway, a 3000-mile developing trail system spanning Florida to Maine, with nearly 100 miles in New Jersey.
Metuchen, Edison and Woodbridge appreciate the value of this local resource and host a number of community-supported events that take place near the greenway. Street fairs, farmers markets, bike tours, parades, musical performances and holiday celebrations offer opportunities to connect local attractions to the trail.
Special Thanks to the Great Places in New Jersey Awards Jury:
Charles W. Latini, Jr., PP, AICP
Principal, L&G Planning, LLC
President, American Planning Association – New Jersey Chapter
Carols Rodrigues, PP, FAICP
Principal, Rodrigues Urban Design
Chair, Urban Design Committee, American Planning Association – New Jersey Chapter
Courtenay D. Mercer, PP, AICP
Principal, Mercer Planning Associates
Director, American Planning Association Board
Debbie Alaimo Lawlor, PP, FAICP
Discipline Leader, Planning Services, Maser Consulting P.A.
Commissioner, American Institute of Certified Planners
James W. Hughes, Ph.D.
Dean, Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Jef R. Buehler, MPA
Director, Office of Main Street New Jersey & Improvement District Programs
Local Planning Services, New Jersey Department of Community Affairs
Please join us in congratulating all of the 2016 Designees and stay tuned for announcements about ceremonies, press events and walking tours to celebrate these communities!