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Harrison's Revival: NJIT's Role in Urban Transformation

Nov 02, 2023
NJIT Professors Student at Harrison NJ

Over two decades ago, the industrial landscape of Harrison, New Jersey, began a remarkable transformation. It was a time when the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) students, staff, and professors upon the invitation of Mayor Raymond McDonough and then-Councilman Anselmo Millan, came to the Town of Harrison to lay down the blueprint for change. This Throwback Thursday, we delve into the history of how an industrial part of Harrison was reimagined into the vibrant residential community it is today.

The Harrison Community Center was abuzz with energy and ideas as NJIT's brightest presented their plans for the redevelopment of Harrison's industrial zones. The event marked the beginning of a visionary project that would see the old replaced with the new, fostering a sense of community and belonging.

Mayor Raymond McDonough, Councilman Peter Higgins, and Councilman Anselmo Millan, in collaboration with the Commissioners of the Harrison Redevelopment Agency (HRA), took these academic plans and turned them into a tangible blueprint for the future. The synergy between the town's leadership and the academic institution was a testament to the power of partnership and shared vision.

The plans presented by the NJIT team were not just architectural drawings, models, conceptual drawings, and photographs; they were a promise of revitalization and growth. The industrial spaces that once defined Harrison's landscape were envisioned to become residential havens, complete with amenities and Green Spaces that would attract families and professionals alike. The original plans were amended over the years and unfortunately, the Green  Spaces were taken out.  One Green Space which was planned to be a Park and a Community Center is now in danger of being turned into a Toxic Sludge dewatering plant across from luxury apartment buildings. You can read more about the Toxic Sludge dewatering plant below by clicking links to articles at the end of this article.

The transformation was not overnight. It took years of planning, negotiation, and hard work. Promises were made with respect to infrastructure and Green Spaces but many of the promises remain unfulfilled. The Harrison of the past was known for its factories and warehouses, but the Harrison that emerged was a testament to modern urban living. The industrial relics gave way to apartment complexes, parks, and a community that could thrive in the new spaces created for them. There was heartache during the transformation.  Many generational property owners in the Redevelopment Zone did not want to sell their properties and/or thought the amount offered by developers was inadequate and fought eminent domaining of their properties.  Some long-time property owners who fought against the taking of their property felt great loss when they were evicted from properties that had been in their families for generations.

Nobody felt good about taking properties from long-time residents but the foresight of Mayor McDonough and his team, the expertise of the NJIT students and staff, and the unwavering support of the HRA were instrumental in the metamorphosis from a contaminated industrial to a residential community. The redevelopment plan was a bold move.  

Today, Harrison stands as a shining example of successful urban redevelopment. The town's transformation from an industrial hub to a residential community is a narrative of progress and innovation. It is a story that highlights the importance of embracing change and the remarkable things that can happen when academia and government work together towards a common goal.

There are issues in the Redevelopment Zone including flooding and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plan to use the former, now decontaminated, PSE&G Gas Plant property between the Path Station and the Jackson Street Bridge threatens current property owners who have invested in the Town of Harrison. Mayor James Fife who is both the Mayor of Harrison and the Chairman of the Harrison Redevelopment Agency has not objected to the plan and has continued to state that he knows nothing about the plan despite making a clear statement at the August 29, 2022, Harrison Redevelopment Agency meeting that the EPA was planning to dump sludge from the Passaic River on the property and stymie plans of the Harrison Redevelopment Agency for the property. Listen to his statement in a video linked at the end of the article.

As we look back on this pivotal moment in Harrison's history, we are reminded of the power of vision and collaboration. The transformation of Harrison is not just about buildings and infrastructure; it's about the community that has flourished within this new landscape. It's a legacy that the residents of Harrison will continue to build upon for generations to come. EPA’s planned use of the PSE&G Gas Works property threatens the health of residents.  The plan also goes against the Harrison Redevelopment Agency's plan to transform the industrial part of Harrison into a residential community.  Not to mention that it will deprive residents, all the residents of Harrison not just those in the Redevelopment Zone of a much-needed Park, Community Center, and a planned circular drop off/ pick up zone for the Path Station and residents.  The biggest threat to the progress made in the Redevelopment Zone is the EPA dumping of toxic cancer-causing sludge in the PSE&G property.

This Throwback Thursday, we celebrate the foresight and collaborative spirit that reshaped an entire town, proving that with the right partnership, even the most industrial spaces can be reimagined into thriving communities.

For more information on NJIT and its role in community development, visit NJIT's official website.

For more information on the biggest threat to the Town of Harrison, read the following articles and/or watch the videos:

EPA Toxic Sludge Plan Worse Than Expected And It Was Already Bad

Harrison Redevelopment Meeting August 29 2022 Mayor James Fife states EPA to use PSE&G for 10 yrs (Excerpt)

Harrison NJ Redevelopment Agency Meeting 8 29 2022 (Official Video)

Harrison Mayor Council Meeting of September 20, 2022 (Excerpt Question on EPA De-watering Plan)

Harrison NJ Mayor & Council Meeting of 9 20 2022 (Official  Full Video)

Highlights of Harrison NJ Town Meeting of Sept.20,2022 where EPA Plan to Dump Agent Orange Discussed

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