Opposition To Bloomfield Center Redevelopment Has Strong Racial Tone

Bloomfield in Essex County NJ is an interesting community filled with history, diversity, and most recently it is slowly becoming a place of hate. The township, which runs along the parkway, is narrow resulting in very distinct neighborhoods that shift to upper income single family suburban homes in the northern portions to a more urban downtown in the south which borders East Orange and Newark.

Reconstruction at the @NewBlfd Center

Bloomfield Center was once a thriving suburban city center with locally owned department stores and thriving businesses. The south end was also a center of employment with both large and small factories making the suburban dream possible. Changing in manufacturing wiped away most of the jobs and the arrival of malls made a "trip" to the center less of an adventure for families. The story has been repeated over and over again in suburban communities across the country so the need to retell one more time is not necessary now.

In recent years Bloomfield Center has been in the midst of a renaissance that has started and stopped only to start over then halt one more time. At present, an awkward collection of old buildings near the train station have been bulldozed with a plan to replace them with a mixed use residential/retail complex. Situated across the street from the train station the residential component is sure to attract people seeking easy access to high paying jobs in Manhattan. The area is also home several very good restaurants that not only will benefit from the new residential complex but will see more business as the planned parking decks makes a visit to "the center" much easier.

BloomfieldPatch has done an excellent job reporting details and developments of the project as soon as news breaks. Like any major change there are supporters and detractors. A rival developer has attempted to stop the project but has had his case dismissed as frivolous -sour grapes perhaps? The more colorful opposition to the project started in the comments section of Bloomfield Patch as the public sounded off with the usual "not in my back yard" and "not with my tax money" stuff that is pretty boiler plate. Read any article on any local new site and the comments are all basically the same, whether it's a new playground, new parking meters, or a new fire truck the negativity is always the same, it's just the names and locations that change.

As this story got legs, and those who approved of the project demonstrated their support the comments became more interesting, with opposition reverting to the usual questions about intelligence of supporters and suggestions about corruption in government.

Now I love reading crazy comments as much as the next person. I'm even pretty sure local news sites were created just to tap into the "crazy shut-in, my life is horrible and I have a bad perm so I'm going to vent here" crowd.  But then the dog whistles started.

In the last fortnight or so comments started to appear comparing Bloomfield Center to Newark. Given that Newark has some areas that are not in their prime, the comparison seemed benign at best or at worst based in ignorance. Then news that Foodtown supermarket signaled their intent to occupy a part of the space and things got crazy. Comments about attracting people from East Orange and Newark were made, not just once, but by several people. East Orange and Newark both have large African American populations. Dog whistles! But then it got really weird.

The Bloomfield redevelopment project got much uglier in an interview with Bloomfield Councilman Nick Joanow.  http://bloomfield.patch.com/ar... Joanow described Bloomfield as having a Mason Dixon line through town. The Mason-Dixon line in a nutshell was drawn before American Independence and has come to mark the cultural boundary between the Northeast and South. It is best known for marking the boundary between free and slave states.  That's when the flames of intolerance were really fanned.

In that article, and subsequent articles, op-eds, and news items about redevelopment and the parking in Bloomfield the comments have taken a racially charged tone, going so far to referring to people in the area as trash. One comment even stressed how he "watched them get off the bus and they are not from Bloomfield." (dog whistle)

Of course the most inflammatory comments were made by people using psudonyms. I guess that's better than white hoods and cross lighting.

Here's the reassuring part of this mess: there are only a handful of loudmouths, who seem to be the same negative loudmouths regarding everything in the region. Their fears about traffic or trucks or a lack of Trader Joe's in the plan are silly at best. But listen closely and you'll hear the dog whistles. Not unlike "Hip Hop Barbeque" on that "news" channel, some of us know exactly what is meant by "people from East Orange and Newark" and "Mason-Dixon Line." Those quiet hints of racism invalidate all of their opinions. Each and every one.

Bloomfield is a wonderful community. It was only after having someone point out that I must read the insanity of the haters that I made a point to discover the area surrounding the redevelopment myself.  It's a foodie wonderland and a great subject for photographers. It's a place with a future so bright that I am sure the "downtown" areas of Nutley and Montclair are a little worried that they'll lose business in a few years to Bloomfield. (don't worry 07110 and 07042, the wealth will be spread around)

There's another meeting about the redevelopment on Tuesday and I am fairly confident that the same handful of people will find something to gripe about. Let's see if the comments are as black and white as they have been lately.

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