May 07, 2010

A Day in Not-So-New Newark

When I got cast in a music video shooting in downtown Newark, I was excited. Sure, Newark isn't the nicest city in the Tri-State area, but I've been there many times and was happy to cross state lines in order to appear on camera alongside a major recording artist.

However, despite its proximity to New York City, Newark isn't a very fun place to hang out. Its downtown is a visible manifestation of the recession's effect on Anytown, USA. Then again, Newark has been struggling for as long as I can remember.

The Paramount Newark movie theater's old marquee still hangs above the three storefronts that now occupy its lobby, two still in operation (selling wares like "Flavor Thug Wear"), flanking one empty one whose still-lit fluorescent lights dangle from the ceiling tiles by their wires.

Amidst the clothing and video stores and Mexican, Caribbean, and chicken food vendors along Market Street stand completely abandoned buildings, with as many as three separate retail spaces long-since neglected and emptied. Fading billboards loom above, their arrows pointing downwards towards banks and taverns that no longer exist.

When the video crew drove up an old brown Cadillac Coup de Ville and shot out its windows, the crowds of gawking locals barely noticed. Pedestrians ushered into abandoned buildings to get out of the camera's view didn't flinch at the filthy carpeting or the smell of urine that made the cast nauseous.

People didn't seem to have anywhere to go. The same guys with dreadlocks walked back and forth down Market Street all day long. Others loitered amidst racks of sunglasses and bandannas, or hung out of second-story windows aiming their Blackberry cameras at the action below. An older woman in a bright turquoise track suit mingled seamlessly in with the extras, and despite not having filled out a time card, managed to get a lot of camera time.

It's hard to imagine Newark's heyday, when the movie theater was open for business and vaudeville was alive and well. 

It's hard to imagine any future urban renewal for the area, despite how bustling it is.

What can be hoped for except stabilization - preventing a downward spiral - in a city just across the river from another city that is always new?

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