By Brenda Flanagan
Newark boasts a renaissance, Camden’s “rising” but Trenton? It’s still mired in urban blight characterized by 3,000 abandoned buildings, a 40 percent spike in shootings last year and an epidemic of illegal drugs. All that, along with the capital city’s rundown State House, perturbs Gov. Chris Christie deeply and today he debuted a multi-step Trenton initiative to make neighborhoods here safe again.
“It is unacceptable to me that our capital city is not the most shining city in our state. It’s unacceptable to me that when I travel to other parts of the nation and go to their capitol cities, that there’s a greater sense of pride and accomplishment in those cities than there is here in the city of Trenton … So it’s unacceptable to me, to leave office without starting to make aggressive efforts to turn around a city that has such enormous potential,” Christie said.
Christie held a news conference on crime-plagued Fountain Avenue and announced a $11.5 million demolition program to tear down 500 mostly residential vacant buildings, similar to the effort that’s cleared almost 600 derelict homes in Camden since 2015. The Trenton money’s from New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.
“We hope they stick to their promises, because it’s been like this for a long time,” said Trenton resident Jessica Uveges. “It’s creepy! When you walk down the street there’s nothing but empty houses. Sometimes you hear things inside of them, sometimes you don’t.”
One resident told me they should knock down this house first. His backyard is on the other side. He said a lot of “bad” things happen here and police agree.
“Taking down some of these structures where drugs are being dealt out of, weapons are sometimes being concealed. And imagine if you’re a police officer on the street having to chase someone into one of these very narrow alleys, or into one of these abandoned houses, it takes out an incredibly dangerous condition,” said state Attorney General Chris Porrino.
The Trenton initiative will also include more help from the attorney general’s shooting response team to supplement local investigations. The New Jersey State Police, which already help patrol Trenton, will provide an extra 150 surveillance cameras to augment the local department’s current 80 cameras. NJ Transit police will expand patrols around hubs like the train station. But some residents say recreation programs for kids also need to be restored.
“That’s why there’s so much violence. Bring back programs. Stop spending money on police and guns, put it in programs,” said Trenton resident, Lamar Priester.
“Engage the kids in recreational activity. As I said, I grew up a block from here. I recall riding up and down Fountain Ave, running up and down the alleyways here,” said President and CEO of the African-American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, John Harmon.
Christie said he’s been waiting for an honest mayor he could trust in order to implement these reforms. The mayor wants a return commitment.
“And I just said to him as we went to the car, great start but we have a lot more to do,” said Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson. “And he said, you have my commitment. We’re going to do all we can.”
Jackson says requests for proposals will go out very soon to get the demolition program underway.