Report Sketches ‘Sustainable’ Future for Morristown

by George!, nj.com, September 9, 2009

Morristown can become a world leader in sustainable growth–if it scraps local immigration enforcement policies, redevelops the Headquarters Plaza commercial complex, and defines a clear strategy for the future.

Those are among recommendations in a new report from national planning experts who visited Morristown last year.

They maintain that the Morris County seat can become “the greenest community in New Jersey” and “a model for the world,” with smarter planning and respect for the town’s rich history and diversity.

What’s lacking, according to these experts, is a game plan.

“The first step is to develop a defined, cohesive, illustrated vision of Morristown’s future. The lack of vision is preventing the acknowledgement of common ground and leading to false dichotomies and unnecessary conflict,” contends the report. Development and preservation are necessary, yet impossible, “until there is a defined vision.”

The document was created pro bono by planners and architects from the American Institute of Architects.

Morristown is among 29 communities nationwide selected by the AIA for its “Sustainable Design Assessment Team” study, or SDAT. Alexandria Township and Englishtown are the other New Jersey municipalities in the program.

Working with The College of New Jersey, the Morristown Partnership applied to the AIA on Morristown’s behalf in 2007. The Partnership promotes business in downtown Morristown.

Broadly, the survey explored how to improve Morristown’s “sustainability,” defined as balancing environmental, economic and social concerns in beneficial ways.

In the summer of 2008, SDAT experts met with town officials, residents, business people, clergy and school children and asked them what kind of future they desire. Those meetings culminated in a town meeting, and the report. More public forums are being planned to discuss the findings.

‘A STARTING POINT’

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“One thing I’m hoping that really resonates is this team making really clear to us as residents and citizens and stakeholders that there is no ‘they’ to turn to or blame. ‘They’ is us. Any stakeholder in the future of the town needs to get into the game,” Paul [Paul Miller, who runs the Partnership’s Step Ahead Morristown sustainability program] said.

There are plenty of conversation-starters in the report, including a veiled poke at Mayor Donald Cresitello’s push to deputize police as immigration officers:

“As Morristown makes headlines for some of the policies that are pursued by its local government, it is in danger of becoming known, fairly or unfairly, as a community of intolerance or even racism,” the report cautions. Celebrating the town’s historically diverse population “is a key strategy for Morristown’s economic sustainability.”

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RECOMMENDATIONS INCLUDE . . .

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o Requiring more affordable housing, so town employees can live here.

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Much of the report focuses on how Morristown can continue to attract the “highly educated, talented creative class who drive the local economy as residents and workforce.”

This demographic wants “interesting kinds of music, food, venues, art galleries, performance spaces, and theaters. The creative class seeks out vibrant, varied nightlife, indigenous street culture, a teeming blend of cafes, sidewalk musicians, small galleries, bistros, and other qualities that contribute to dynamic urban places,” the report contends.

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