A smiling couple walks past city hall with their children in toll. A woman jogs down Grand Street and proceeds to turn down Broadway. Further down Grand Street is the Newburgh Free Library where patrons peruse the library’s resources . On Broadway customers walk in and out of 2 Alices sipping hot cups of coffee, and munching on treats.
These scenes are only a few pieces in the multifaceted tapestry of the City of Newburgh. The City has gone through immense change since its start. A predominantly black and Latino city, it has been painted as the epitome of a failing city since President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty. After being stricken by a controversial urban renewal policy from the 1960s to early 1970s, many buildings, businesses, and homes were lost.
Despite having dark moments, the City of Newburgh has made increasing efforts to revitalize. Jack Dubois is one man who’s been around to see the dark blights and the bright spots of the city.
Although a resident of the Town of Newburgh, 77-year-old Dubois has spent his whole life frequenting the City of Newburgh. On a weekly basis, Dubois comes to the city four to five times.
Speaking on the changes to the city, “It’s starting to pick up now,” said Dubois. Regardless, the city still struggles with a negative reputation.
Recently, Newburgh was voted as the 37th worst American city to live in by 24/7 Wall Street. This ranking is part of 24/7 Wall Street’s list of the 50 worst American cities to live in.
Newburgh was the only city in New York State and one of the few in the Northeastern United States to rank among the worst cities to live in.
The website determined its 50 worst cities through a weighted index of 25 measures, the measures fell into four categories: affordability, economy, quality of life, and community.
This past May, 24/7 Wall Street also ranked Newburgh as the worst city to live in all of New York State.
When first told about the list of 50 worst cities to live in, Ron P. joked that he expected Newburgh to be in the top three.
As a native of the Bronx and a Newburgh resident for the past four years, Ron has described Newburgh as “a little bit of all the five boroughs [of New York City].” Ron did not disclose his last name due to potential legal issues.
Newburgh has a documented population of 28,444. In 2017, Newburgh had 1,236 violent crimes per 100,000 people. The list explains that the ranking is heavily attributed to Newburgh’s crime rate.
“Violence and crime is rampant here,” said Ron. “The other thing that I noticed is that there’s a movement of a group of people that want to restore Newburgh. They want to make it more habitable, more happier for the people.”
“It’s [the ranking] all lies,” said Michael Mannion, a resident of Newburgh’s Cornerstone Residence for the past six years. “They zero in on the small amount of people in the city that commit crimes as opposed to the larger community that works together, helps each other.”
Mannion explained that although statistically there is crime in Newburgh, one needs to take into account that crime only happens in certain parts of Newburgh. “The rest of Newburgh is safe,” said Mannion.
“It goes according to how you take it,” said Dubois. “You mind your own business, you don’t bother other people, you’re better off. The troublemakers, they know one another.”
“Newburgh is what people make it,” said 52-year-old Yolanda Baptist sitting at a table in the Newburgh Free Library on Monday afternoon. She is a life-long resident of the city.
“You can’t just look at a small blemish [like crime],” said Ron. “You have to look at the whole picture.”
Despite having statistically high crime rates compared to surrounding municipalities, one needs to take into account crime has dropped over the past five years.
“Crime is crime,” said Baptist.
Baptist believes that economic conditions are a bigger problem. The city’s ranking is also attributed to economic conditions. According to 24/7 Wall Street, the city has a 31.2% poverty rate. The annual median household income in Newburgh is $36,922. That number is $20,000 lower than the national median.
“Everybody’s talking about how Newburgh is a bad place to live,” said Baptist. “If people stop coming in and making the rents high and making the living low, then Newburgh would not be as bad.” Baptist expressed concerns about development projects excluding the city’s residents from job opportunities.
“Why build the waterfront, but you give no jobs to people that live here?”
In recent years the city council has spoken of combating economic issues like low employment rates. The city hopes to revitalize its quality of life and bring in new sources of revenue like, Wireworks and more.
Some could say Newburgh is in its renaissance stage. Still, there is much more to be done. Other than economic issues, Baptist believes that racial tension is still a problem.
“There’s a really thick sense of racism that I discovered,” said Ron on racial tension. “I’ve never been discriminated against growing up in the Bronx. You know [being] tall, black, and latino.” He described feeling scrutinized for his identity, and dealing with harassment in his own apartment complex.
Baptist also raised concerns over police treatment of racial minorities.
“It’s disgusting,” said Baptist. “We got a black mayor. We got black city council-men, and women, and they’re doing nothing for Newburgh.”
Despite a historically tense relationship between the City of Newburgh Police Department and the city’s community, there have been efforts to decrease tensions through community cookouts and other community programming.
Ron personally approves of the city’s law enforcement and believes it’s one of the pluses of the city.
“You feel the presence of law enforcement,” said Ron. “The officers, they’re kind. I’ve been to City Hall and the officials there, they seem worthy.” At the same time, Ron believes the movement to improve Newburgh should take a different direction to be successful.
Although Newburgh’s story has been tumultuous with its various ups and downs, many disagree with Newburgh being ranked as the worst city in New York State.
“I wouldn’t say it’s the worst,” said Ron. “It’s also not the best. It’s coming up. You can feel it, if you just take a drive down to Liberty Street.”