Newark still tops among New Jersey’s biggest cities

Jersey City had hoped to snag bragging rights but fell short

By: - August 12, 2021 6:05 pm

Newark is still No. 1 in New Jersey, with new Census figures showing it remains the most populous city in the state.

Newark is keeping its crown as New Jersey’s biggest city, surpassing the 300,000 mark in total population for the first time in four decades, according to numbers the U.S. Census Bureau released Thursday.

The Brick City saw its citizenry soar 12% in the past decade to 311,549 residents, according to the new figures.

Leaders of Jersey City, Newark’s neighbor to the east, have yearned for years to take over the state’s top spot, and its mayor frequently predicted a takeover. It’s even in Steven Fulop’s online bio on the city website: “Steven Michael Fulop is the 49th and current Mayor of Jersey City, New Jersey — named the most diverse city in the nation and the soon-to-be largest city in New Jersey.”

But Jersey City remains in second place, with 292,449 residents, up 18% from the last official count in 2010. Paterson, Elizabeth, and Lakewood rounded out the top-5 list of N.J.’s biggest cities, with Lakewood hop-scotching Edison and Woodbridge to move up.

Fulop and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.

Jersey City officials had been hoping the dramatic rise of residential towers on its Hudson River waterfront would push it to No. 1. Real estate developer Josh Mann attributed Newark’s recent growth in large part to “stealth” development.

“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of rehabs” and growth in affordable housing, said Mann, also president of the New Jersey Builders Association. “Mayor Baraka and his team deserve a lot of credit for that, because clearly, that was enough to allow Newark to sustain its status as biggest city.”

Baraka’s social media team had fun with Thursday’s findings.

“Well well well, Jersey City, would you look at this,” the City of Newark tweeted on its official account, along with a gif of Oprah Winfrey looking smug.

A win for both cities

One longtime real estate developer said the rivalry doesn’t mean much.

“It’s irrelevant — it’s only relevant for political leaders to get bragging rights,” said Robert Antonicello, a former executive director of the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency.

But Antonicello and other developers agreed the Census figures are a win for both cities, because both saw their populations grow.

“Population growth shows our economy is doing well,” Mann said. “These numbers prove we need to build more housing.”

Both cities have had remarkable rebounds.

In the 1970s, Jersey City was a port city in post-industrial collapse, its waterfront a toxic mess left behind by the railroads. But because of its proximity to New York City, it was a transit destination. By the 1980s, developers began building up, transforming the “wreck and ruin” into a city of environmentally friendly high-rises and a successful financial district, Antonicello said.

“Today what you see in Jersey City is the result of a 40-year effort to turn an old industrial city into a post-industrial modern city. Its success really is stunning,” he said.

In Newark, the revival was a long time coming too, with crime, poverty, and a dilapidated downtown frequent roadblocks for those working for a renaissance.

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.