Dozens of writers, actors, actresses and music personalities were born in the hardscrabble neighborhoods of Newark—New Jersey’s largest city, and the nation’s 67th most populous municipality.
Mystery novelist Harlan Coben and fiction writer Philip Roth are both natives of the city, and Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander was born there as well. Film director Brian DePalma, tough-guy actors Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta, rapper Ice-T, and actress and talk show host Queen Latifah, are also among the many Newark-born celebrities. Former New York Mayor Ed Koch was raised in and graduated from high school in Newark and the late Whitney Houston was born in a middle-class Newark neighborhood and learned to sing gospel music there at the local Baptist church. Singer-composers Frankie Valli and Paul Simon also were born in the city’s wards.
As of the 2010 U.S. Census, Newark’s population stood at 277,140 people, making it the second largest city in the New York metropolitan area. Newark, the largest city (by population) in the Garden State, and the county seat of Essex County, serves as one of the nation's major air, shipping, and rail hubs.
In the heart of New Jersey's Gateway Region, and approximately 8 miles west of Manhattan, the city is home to Port Newark, the major container shipping terminal in the Port of New York and New Jersey, and the largest on the East Coast. Newark Liberty International Airport was the first municipal commercial airport in the United States, and today is one of its busiest.
Newark, New Jersey was originally founded in 1666 by a group of Connecticut Puritans led by Robert Treat from the New Haven Colony. The city saw tremendous industrial and population growth during the 19th century and early 20th century, and experienced racial tension and urban decline in the second half of the 20th century, culminating in the 1967 Newark riots. The city has experienced revitalization during the 1990s and early 21st century.
Newark was originally formed as a township on October 31, 1693, based on the Newark Tract, which was first purchased on July 11, 1667. Newark was granted a Royal charter on April 27, 1713, and was incorporated by an act of the New Jersey Legislature on February 21, 1798, as one of New Jersey's initial group of 104 townships.
Newark was reincorporated as a city on April 11, 1836, replacing Newark Township, based on the results of a referendum passed on March 18, 1836. The previously independent Vailsburg borough was annexed by Newark on January 1, 1905 and in 1926, South Orange Township changed its name to Maplewood. As a result of this, a portion of Maplewood known as Ivy Hill was re-annexed to Newark's Vailsburg. Legend has it that the city gets its name from Newark-on-Trent, England, a deference to that city from a local pastor that settled in the area.
Home to the Devils and Major
Newark is headquarters to numerous corporations, such as Prudential Financial, Panasonic Corporation of North America and PSEG. It is also home to several universities, such as Rutgers– Newark, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Seton Hall University's Law School. Among its cultural and sports venues include the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the Prudential Center, and the Bears & Eagles Riverfront Baseball Stadium. The Newark Bears, however, disbanded their minor league baseball team in 2014. The National Hockey League’s New Jersey Devils have played at the Prudential Center since 2007.
The city used to be known as the most dangerous city in the nation, an ignominious honor bestowed upon it by Time magazine in 1996. However, the landscape has radically changed over the years, and the murder rate dropped precipitously as by 2008, Newark had only 65 homicides from its previous high in 1981 of 161. By 2014, that number stood at 93, which was less than all of Essex County’s 117 murder rate.
Newark is divided into five geographical wards, and contains neighborhoods ranging in character from bustling urban districts to quiet suburban enclaves. New Jersey's largest and second-most racially diverse city (after neighboring Jersey City), it is divided into five political wards. The sense of belonging provided by the ward neighborhood system is often used by residents to identify their place of habitation. In recent years, though, residents have gone back to identifying with specific neighborhoods rather than wards.
Nevertheless, the wards remain relatively distinct. Industrial uses, coupled with the airport and seaport lands, are concentrated in the East and South Wards, while residential neighborhoods exist primarily in the North, Central, and West Wards. The East Ward contains Newark's Downtown commercial district and the Ironbound neighborhood, where much of Newark's industry was located in the 19th century. Today, due to the enterprise of its immigrant population, the Ironbound (also known as "Down Neck" or just "The Neck") is quite a popular destination for shopping, dining, and nightlife. The East Ward also houses a majority of apartment houses and rowhouses, though very densely populated.
The Ironbound is often referred to as "Little Portugal" and "Little Brazil" due to its Portuguese and Brazilian population. In fact, Newark is home to one of the largest Portuguese-speaking communities in the United States.
It also is a major part of New Jersey’s economy. More than 100,000 people commute to Newark every workday, making it the state’s largest employment center, with a variety of white-collar jobs in insurance, finance, the import-export trade, health care and government.
Parks, Recreation and Culture
Newark's Branch Brook Park is the oldest county park in the United States and features the nation's largest collection of cherry blossom trees, numbering over 5,000. It is also home to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, where the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and New Jersey State Opera perform. In addition to sporting events, theater, dance and musical performances take place at the Prudential Center regularly. The Newark Museum boasts a large collection of American and Tibetan art and the Jewish Museum of New Jersey celebrates the cultural heritage of the Jewish people.
You don’t have to be a tough guy to live there but there are many neighborhoods in Newark in which newcomers can call home.
Debra A. Estock is managing editor of The Cooperator.