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BALLARO: New Brunswick’s revitalization does not aid impoverished community

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I was sitting on an LX bus one afternoon and I heard the ostentatious crunching of a paper bag.

Its origin: Cafe West.

Cafe West is a trendy eatery with a long line that trails out and crowds the West wing of the Rutgers Academic Building on the College Avenue campus. It seems to be single-handedly the reason for a new policy limiting takeout swipes, incurring the now-rare currency. Its paper bags are totted by students across the College Avenue campus and littered in the trash and not the recycling. Its snapping fills the air of the quiet Alexander Library.

Cafe West was an addition to the (singular) Rutgers Academic Building. Yes the Academic Building is just that, a singular building. If one were to fill the ground floor with water it would rise to fill both the East and West wing.

Interestingly, the building is not actually owned by Rutgers. Instead it is yet another feature of the New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO). Rutgers may own the land, but the building property is rented from DEVCO.

DEVCO dots the landscapes of New Brunswick and claims “delivering (more than) $2 billion in urban revitalization projects." It may be a non-profit organization, but DEVCO is yet another arm of Johnson & Johnson’s stronghold on New Brunswick. 

It grossly vies for Johnson & Johnson’s interests at the “benefit” of New Brunswick residents.  According to a 2014 New Brunswick Today article, New Brunswick Parking Authority (NBPA) had accrued approximately $249,410,000 in debt from various unlucrative building projects, many of which had been built from collaborations with DEVCO. 

Despite DEVCO being for the supposed benefit of New Brunswick, its benefits seem not to be reaped for the people that live there. DEVCO features a lack of public bidding on its projects, which is typically required by municipalities and universities. There is a lack of transparency in who and why specific contractors get chosen.

Furthermore, it has been in the habit of building “luxury” apartments in the center of New Brunswick. For the 35.5 percent of New Brunswick residents that live below poverty, it is clear these are not meant for their benefit. It rings bells of colonization of a town torn by college students and external parties coming to take a New Brunswick that has yet to be.

New Brunswick is exceptional. The national average in 2018 of those that live below the poverty line is 13.1 percent, while New Brunswick almost triples that. It is exceptional that Johnson & Johnson and DEVCO continuously fail the residents of the Hub City.

It is exceptional that Rutgers students can grab a prosciutto and fig sandwich in a paper bag from Cafe West, while residents of New Brunswick scramble to the largest network of food pantries in the county. It is exceptional when I meet an overworked biology graduate student who pushes through two underpaying instructor jobs and might have to consider visiting a food pantry shamelessly advertised by Rutgers, but still has time to smile. 

It is exceptional that Rutgers still fails to adequately pay adjunct instructors, and University President Robert L. Barchi makes more than teaching and graduate assistants earn all year in two weeks.

How embarrassing must it be for a university to admirably recommend a food pantry for starvation it perpetuates? So much of New Brunswick wallows in poverty, while so much is enslaved to the Johnson & Johnson and Rutgers machine.

When people demand adequate and equitable treatment, they are told that they are ungrateful and that this machine has done so much for them. When unions organize, they are met with opposition and get told the budget can not afford them because students want to eat vegan and the administration needs more bloat. When graduate students put so much in, they get sexual abuse and trifling checks for rent they cannot afford.

For research on an early column of mine about a certain Deiner Park, I happened upon the book “New Brunswick, New Jersey: The Decline and Revitalization of Urban America.” It discusses New Brunswick being the exemplar town for how to “rescue” a crumbling city.

I was confused as to which New Brunswick it was referring to, because I have yet to see anything notably revitalized. Are cracked sidewalks, derelict building projects that go nowhere and an unserved population of people experiencing homelessness a revitalized town?

Who is the revitalization of New Brunswick really for? Rather, whose wallet does revitalization benefit?

Anthony Ballaro is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in classics and public health. His column, "Thoughts from the LX," runs on alternate Thursdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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