A new physical and digital walking trail designed to showcase Newark's ongoing revival allows those exploring New Jersey's largest city to see for themselves why Newark is one of America's no-longer-secret urban gems.
"Everybody talks about how rich Newark's history is, but there was never a way to experience it or understand it," said Karin Aaron, the president and CEO of the Greater Newark Convention and Visitors Bureau (GNCVB), a non-profit corporation composed of business and civic leaders that works to attract people to Newark to see its significant sights and encourage them to stay overnight in the city's increasing number of hotels.
"Now, people who want to come and explore Newark can go on this new trail and find out for themselves how the city is rising up to new heights," Aaron said. "Newark is the only city in New Jersey with capacity to create a center of gravity and identity for this state as something other than a bedroom community for New York City or Philadelphia. When something happens in Newark, New Jersey owns it."
The trail, known as Newark Walks, is open to the public and provides an interactive and engaging pedestrian tour of the city. Launched last month in conjunction with the city's 350th anniversary, the 5K trail is made possible by a $300,000 grant from the Prudential Foundation and is born of a collaboration among Newark natives, residents, city officials and businesses, as well as educational and cultural organizations.
The highly-detailed trail includes 83 points of interest, outlined in the Newark Walks mobile app (found in the Apple Store or Google Play Store) and spread between 53 locations in Newark's revitalized downtown. The trail features architecture, historic people and places, monuments, and artistic and cultural attractions.
Popular and well-known Newark sites such as the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), the Prudential Arena and the Newark Museum are included on the trail.
Among other key historical points of interest on the trail are Newark Arts High School, the first visual and performing arts high school in the country, whose graduates include famed entertainers such as jazz singer extraordinaire Sarah Vaughan and dance great Savion Glover; the Hahne & Co. Building, Newark's first department store and the future home of both the city's first entrepreneur center and Whole Foods Market; Krueger Mansion, the most elaborate mansion ever built in Newark and future home of New Jersey's first micro-manufacturing facility; Military Park, a camping ground for General George Washington's Revolutionary War army that was renovated in 2014; the spiritually moving and architecturally beautiful St. Patrick Cathedral and St. James A.M.E. Church; and WBGO, a National Public Radio-affiliated, 24/7 music and radio station that is one of the few radio stations nationwide that focuses on jazz, a musical art form born in America.
Local leaders of the city government, corporate community and GNCVB board spoke out in succession in support of the new walking trail.
"Newark Walks is the most recent demonstration of our commitment to make Newark a walkable city," said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. "[Newark Walks] shows off many of our historic landmarks, and when used in conjunction with the mobile app, shares fun facts about the city with people as they walk the trail."
"The Newark Walks trail is a creative way to introduce residents and visitors to Newark's fascinating history, as well as some of the exciting development under way," said John Strangfeld, Prudential Financial Chairman and CEO.
"We expect Newark Walks to increase 'pride of place' among those who live and/or work here, and increase regard for the city among visitors," said Cathleen Lewis, GNCVB Board Chair.
In decades past, Newark's pride of place was damaged by memories of the destructive 1967 civil disturbances in Newark, events seen as a riot by some and a rebellion to others.
Now almost 50 years later, the new trail's goal is to help people to see the city for themselves and then believe in two different words that start with the letter "r" regarding Newark: renewal and resurrection.
"We're preaching the gospel of Newark all over the world. And while we're out playing missionary, someone's got to pass out hymnals in the church," said Aaron, noting that up to five new hotels are expected to be completed in Newark within the next three to five years. "Newark now is a city looking to the future to a huge degree. New Jersey has been exporting money to New York City for decades. It's time that we create a vacuum here in Newark and suck all the money back up. And that's exactly what we're doing.
"It's not just about making people see what the city once was," Aaron added. "It's all about making people see what Newark is now, and what Newark will be."