In participation with Trenton Works and professors at The College of New Jersey, students recently completed history projects that highlight the history and culture of Trenton, New Jersey. Spanning from the Revolutionary War to the Punk Rock scene of the 1980s and 90s, these students researched in the community to piece together and further engage in Trenton's rich history.

One project in particular struck me with the resonance it holds in today's Trenton area. Delving into the historic jewish presence in Trenton, TCNJ graduate, Michael Cort presents his documentary, The Lost City in honor of the historic district lovingly referred to as, Jewtown. In The Lost City, Cort interviews professors and former residents of Jewtown, unpacking the racial tensions and socioeconomic shifts which led to its disappearance. Cort attributes this shift largely to White Flight and urban renewal projects from the early 1960-1970s. Evidence suggests that the gradual relocation of the Jewish population from the city to the surrounding suburbs also relocated a substantial economic base contributing to many of Trenton's current issues. Commentary by TCNJ professor, Dr. Robert McGreevey, rings particularly true for Trenton, begging a closer evaluation of current and future city renewal plans:

"Critics claimed that urban renewal often translated into ‘negro removal' and certainly that was the case in Trenton... where black communities were defined as "blighted" and among the first to be cleared. This also comes into play with Jewish communities as well..."
"I would understand [urban renewal] as a way for the city to respond to dual pressures of deindustrialization and suburbanization..."
"In retrospect these decisions seem misguided because they are less focused on the community that was already living in the city. Often... urban renewal projects tend to privilege white suburban interests... and yet we're at a moment now where we need to move beyond that and look at the interests of the people living in the city."

Perhaps, we should take some cues from history. Jewtown's dissipation and the adverse effects of 20th century urban renewal projects which capitulated ethnic and cultural communities in favor of remaking the "slums" or "blighted" areas of industrial cities with public and state buildings can be seen as today as part of the vicious cycle of issues facing Trenton today. The fact of the matter is, Trenton is a diverse city with a predominantly African American demographic and a growing hispanic population. Perhaps more could be done to celebrate this aspect of the community and serve their interests rather than stifling it in order to attract a more white-washed crowd.
Of course these issues are multifaceted. These "short-sighted" Urban renewal projects like the ones discussed in The Lost City have many motivations --- money and taxes figuring prominently among them. But if there's one thing I've learned, history has a tendency to repeat itself if the current cycles in place today are not diverted to create change.