Orange is a 2.2 sq. mile township in Essex County New Jersey. Once a thriving and diverse city with a racially and economically broad populace that included thriving industry, locally-owned businesses, a walkable main street and all of the other staples of healthy city life, Orange suffered from the direct effects of interstate 280 cutting through its heart.
When Archaeologist Chris Matthews first brought his students to Orange in 2013, he discovered that the township wasn’t blighted when the interstate was first built. It was thriving.
“There were two YMCAs and the Friendship House (a community civic and recreation center). There were businesses. The highway came in and took the head off the community.”
The results were not surprising. Many lost their homes. Businesses and organizations suffered from the divestment and hollowing out of the city. People became isolated, diversity diminished and crime rose.
And this blight wasn’t suffered by Orange alone. It is a national crisis. Our cities are fractured and highly divided by race and class. Physical and cultural spaces play a pivotal role in reclaiming viability and preserving the history and health of a community.
Because Orange contains, within its relatively small borders, all of the shared histories, tragedies, loves and losses of its larger metropolitan relatives across our nation, we believe that understanding it and the people that are its pulse, we can provide a blueprint for reclaiming our blighted urban communities.