Citizens Campaign Working to Build a Stronger Perth Amboy

September 15, 2014

Historic Perth Amboy has always been an important focal point in New Jersey.  Long a seaport and commercial center, Perth Amboy’s fortunes were closely tied to the wave of industrialization that came in the mid-19th century, bringing with it waves of immigrants.

With the decline of heavy industry, Perth Amboy was also one of the first cities to encounter the problems of the post-industrial era in the mid to late 20th century when thousands of jobs left the city.

I grew up and worked in Perth Amboy at the peak of the industrial age, and enjoyed the benefits of a thriving community: a great education, many friends from diverse backgrounds, and, finally, a good paying local job. Now the city has a new wave of immigrants and a new set of challenges and opportunities. Education, jobs and a diverse mix of cultures have again become keys to building a “new” Perth Amboy.

I still live here and want to play a part in Perth Amboy’s regeneration. That’s one of the reasons I became involved in The Citizens Campaign’s civic empowerment initiative.

Each month Perth Amboy residents, nonprofit leaders, educators and local business owners come together to discuss our City’s pressing issues.

The Citizens Campaign’s core principles guide us in developing solutions that:

  • benefit Perth Amboy, not special interest concerns
  • are proven and evidence-based
  • are implemented using a no-blame approach
  • are cost-effective

By using the proven political techniques and government know-how of The Citizens Campaign, we are getting results on the issues we care about. We identified three top issue areas — education; the environment; and arts and economic development. After extensive research and problem-solving, I am happy to report we achieved several major accomplishments.

The Citizen’s Campaign’s Environmental Task Force members identified three priority issues — making Perth Amboy’s waterways and beaches safe for public use; improving storm resiliency; and increasing civic engagement on environmental issues. It was clear that this last issue was critica — by creating meaningful opportunities for residents to get involved, members of the public could channel their passion into helping us address the environmental issues we identified.

A group of concerned residents armed with a renewed interest in civic engagement, new political skills and a ready-to-adopt ordinance, convinced the City of Perth Amboy to establish a Green Team. The Green Team is working to put Perth Amboy on the right track to improving sustainability, storm resiliency and to seek out and implement new ways to strengthen Perth Amboy’s environment.

It’s exciting to see a new generation of Perth Amboy residents working to restore the waterfront, beachfront and other recreation areas for the entire community to enjoy!

Another newly empowered voice is the Perth Amboy arts community. With support and guidance from the Jewish Renaissance Foundation and the National Consortium for Creative Placemaking, Perth Amboy residents have made an inventory of public spaces that can be used for the arts.

Through the efforts of The Citizens Campaign Arts & Economic Development Task Force and the city’s Creative Team, a Perth Amboy Arts Council was created. We envision a growing program that includes visual art (galleries and public murals), music, dance and theater arts that celebrates the cultural diversity of the City. Using the inventory of public spaces, the newly created Arts Council now has a road map for locating opportunities for the arts and linking them to economic development throughout the city. Planning ahead, the Arts and Economic Task Force’s future initiatives include creation of an Arts District and an ordinance for public murals.

In the area of education, The Citizens Campaign’s Education Task Force chose to focus their efforts on issues affecting at-risk youth. Our research showed greater community involvement helped reduce dropout rates and increased the number of students graduating.

With this goal in mind, the Education Task Force created a survey to solicit community-wide input on the school district’s Student Code of Conduct. The results are being presented to the Perth Amboy Board of Education and its Review Committee.  These efforts represent the first step of a dynamic and ongoing dialogue between the school district and the community. The Education Task Force will continue to facilitate this conversation, and address future challenges and identify new solutions to provide the best education for Perth Amboy children.

These many accomplishments are just the beginning. We continue to explore evidence-based solutions that can strengthen the quality of life in our beloved City by the Bay. I’m proud to be playing a meaningful part in connecting the historic heritage of Perth Amboy with The Citizens Campaign’s initiative to improve the education, the environment, arts and economy of today and tomorrow’s Perth Amboy.

Greg Bender is a member of The Citizens Campaign’s Arts & Economic Development Task Force. By profession, Greg Bender is a retired Packaging and Transportation Engineer with the U.S Navy. Currently, Greg serves as a Trustee of Rutgers University and is a past President of the Rutgers Alumni Association.