By Jessica Mazzola/NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
EAST ORANGE - In 2015, the city is going to embrace, and capitalize on, its urbanism.
That was one of the messages from Mayor Lester Taylor, who addressed other elected officials, municipal employees, and residents in a state of the city address Tuesday night. During his speech, Taylor said East Orange was in the middle of a "paradigm shift," and is planning to "set the standard for urban excellence."
Much of his speech was spent talking about changing the typically negative perception of "urban," and focusing on positive and marketable aspects of being an urban city, like proximity to NYC, and accessibility through mass transit.
"We are going to show people what urban is all about," he told the crowd of at least 150 people at the Cicely Tyson Community School of the Performing and Fine Arts Tuesday night.
Taylor was sworn in to the city's top job on Jan. 1, 2014. The 40-year-old is one of the youngest mayors in the city's history.
His state of the city focused on many of his administration's initiatives over the past year, which he said included an effort to increase governmental transparency and communication to residents, bringing economic opportunities to East Orange, and focusing on public safety and cleanliness in the city.
"A clean city leads to a safe city," Taylor said, touting initiatives in the city aimed at cleaning up the streets. He also spoke of the positive relationship between residents and the police department in the city, and the PD's focus on reducing crime. In 2014, East Orange reported a 25 percent decrease in shooting incidents, and a five percent decrease in violent crimes, Taylor said.
He also spoke of a new free smoke detector initiative with the Red Cross that the mayor said should help increase fire safety.
"We want to go from good to great," he said. "Our goal is to make East Orange a safer...place."
Most of Taylor's discussion of 2015 focused mostly on working to bring development to the city. He spoke of East Orange's designation as a transit village, and its work with the Urban Essex Coalition for Smart Growth, a group aimed at redeveloping the Brick Church and East Orange train stations into a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly town center, and an arts district.
He also spoke of the East Orange Water Commission, which underwent a major overhaul in 2014, and the East Orange Golf Course, which will undergo renovations soon, he said. Taylor firmly stated the city's intention not to sell either "asset," but to develop them into money-making entities.
A redevelopment plan at the course includes improvements to the green, and the addition of a new clubhouse and restaurant. Taylor said he hoped the golf course, which attracts players from nearby communities like Millburn, would be the first of many destinations that could bring visitors to the city of East Orange.
"We intend to fully capitalize on (our neighbors') affluence to bring (money) back into East Orange," he said.
The crowd gave Taylor's speech, which was delivered just a few hours beforePresident Barack Obama's State of the Union address, a warm reception.
"It's encouraging to hear (what) East Orange is working on," Essex County Freeholder Board President Britnee Timberlake, a city resident, said after the speech. "I'm confident that (the administration) can do these things while watching the price points, so that low- and moderate-income residents can take advantage of the...added perks of living in East Orange."
During the talk, Taylor commended county and state politicians for helping support East Orange, and all 900-plus municipal employees in the city.
"I know that together...we will make East Orange see the brightest days it ever has in the very, very near future," he told employees and residents at the end of the speech.