Can I be honest?
On occasion when I come back to Newark a sense of gloom engulfs me. In contrast to the gentrified fantasy so many other downtown destinations offer Newark appears miserable. It lacks polite aesthetics and diverse upscale amenities. Even the city’s sole accessible Starbucks came and closed in a heartbeat. The chic restaurants and graceful parks where lovers and friends would gather in other cities seem limited in Newark. Underneath the surface lies crime and crisis and above the State’s suburban centric policies and the racist/classist decision-making of upscale retailers are situated. All of this leads me to ask and answer how people may find opportunities to connect hearts and minds in a city that seems to lack a “lover’s lane”.
An old neighbor once told me that he decided to purchase a house and settle in the city of Newark once he developed quality friends. For me, his decision was the literal interpretation of the phrase “home is where the heart is.” The first question a new arrival to Newark might ask is how did he meet those friends? Better yet how does love take root in a city like Newark?
I understand the love my old neighbor found in the city despite the visually provoked depression brought on by my travels back there. I grew up in a family that chose to move to Newark during the derisive 80’s. The decision was based on the thought that too many other communities were striving to be privileged while Newark was inescapably a microcosm of the world. Still racially diverse and segregated, impoverished and affluent, full of calm and crisis, historically rich and systematically underserved I think they were accurate. They knew what my neighbor learned: joy in the city exists not in the attractiveness of its market place but in the robustness of its people.
In the past two decades so many other cities, towns and villages have become atheistically identical. As a result finding relatable people in other cities may be as easy as getting cups of coffee with a recognizable “starbaucks” taste. In Newark, lover’s lane still has no street sign; yet, my experience has been that the human connections, development and life in general are that much more authentic.