Revitalization of Plainfield has been a talking point for Plainfielders and the surrounding communities for decades, and has been attempted in several stages over time from the 1950s forward. As Plainfielders, we all know the potential of our downtown. Downtown Plainfield is the largest downtown west of Newark, with over 40 blocks. We have a battle that no other downtown near us has - decay - and covering a larger area. Issues such as property maintenance, unpermitted uses and signs, illegal businesses, and apartments without Certificates of Occupancy are all problems we as a city are grappling with downtown. It takes a coordinated plan, better communication, new ideas and holding business owners, landlords, city officials and politicians accountable for the conditions in our downtown in order to conquer these problems before they conquer us.
We believe that community-oriented improvements and structured, professional fundraising campaigns will help in getting more people involved with their downtown, to know what we’re trying to build, and will foster change for the people, by the people. It has been demonstrated in other neighboring downtowns that building trust with the community starts with having a proven track record of success; citizen organization and rallying behind community agreed-upon causes; and effectively managing projects. We are certain the same holds true for Plainfield, and DPA is slowly building that support system.
In the face of a changing downtown, with hundreds of approved apartments (and more on the way), we are accomplishing our development goals; however, there is more to economic development than attracting developers. Fostering a positive environment, improving quality of life, solving problems that may arise promptly, taking care of problems that may have amounted years ago that were never fixed, and welcoming a diverse atmosphere for commerce is key to unlocking the economic potential that Plainfield has for itself. This can be accomplished through financial incentives, code enforcement, zoning enforcement, and partnerships with current landlords and business owners as stakeholders to the future we’re trying to create.
Currently, DPA is focused on sidewalk cleaning, fixing the widespread lighting outages, replacing missing street trees, and reporting code/zoning violations to city officials. DPA has engaged the city on previous occasions on behalf of our business owners and residents, and has been met with both cooperation on certain items (such as beautification and community clean-ups), as well as unresponsiveness on items like code and zoning violations. As we continue to work through these issues and bring about accountability, we remain focused on the bigger picture of how to formulate a working relationship with a city that is at times overwhelmed with enforcement matters.
Realizing the diverse issues that we have downtown and the opportunity to make our downtown a true live, work, play community, we are bombarded all the time with the question, “How can I help?” from local citizens to which I say "volunteer and donate.” DPA gives citizens this opportunity through separate campaigns and events that are all volunteer-based (such as community clean-ups, power washing, street tree replanting, and community events) to engage with their community, volunteer and donate for a single cause as they come up.
DPA is gearing up for our first-ever sidewalk power washing event to which we will power wash all of the sidewalks in the entire downtown, from the North Plainfield border to 7th Street, and from the Senior Citizens Center on East Front Street to New Street. This may be the largest single sidewalk power washing operation downtown in history. In the next few weeks, a GoFundMe page will be created and shared with the public for those that wish to help us raise funds to complete this project.
Being that downtown is in the core of our city and has much exposure from many travelers, it should function as the central life of our city. We see this in Somerville, Westfield and many other communities throughout New Jersey. This is our opportunity for like-minded citizens who care for the economy of their city to get involved and bring about the change they believe in.
DPA looks forward to seeing more residents and business owners involved downtown and welcomes everyone to join us in fundraising and supporting our downtown. Follow our website, Facebook and Instagram (@downtownplainfieldalliance) for more information.
Ronald Johnson, President
Downtown Plainfield Alliance (DPA) is a nonpolitical, nonprofit grassroots group that supports the improvement of Downtown Plainfield through beautification, volunteerism, economic development, marketing, community development, and activism. This column dives into the in's-and-out's of Downtown Plainfield’s revitalization. Learn more about Downtown Plainfield Alliance at www.downtownplainfield.com.
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