NJ Downtowns Explore New Technologies to Serve Residents and Visitors
As New Jersey municipalities urged their residents to support local businesses as much as possible when COVID-19 shut down many nearly two years ago, some shops and stores were forced to establish a digital presence, including including online ordering, for the first time.
But the internet, especially publicly available wifi, has transformed downtown neighborhoods in the Garden State for the better part of a decade, according to Chris Bernardo, president and CEO of Bloomfield-based Commercial District Services.
Bernardo was among several community leaders who discussed rapidly changing technology during “Becoming a Tech Savvy Downtown,” a virtual presentation at the recent 2022 New Jersey Downtown Conference.
Jef Buehler, head of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs’ neighborhood preservation program, said local officials need to think about having the widest possible reach, but while lowering their technology priorities.
“How can we as districts use technology to help us achieve these goals beyond just having Facebook pages or claiming businesses on Google Maps, for example?” says Bühler. “Maybe it’s an app, maybe it’s a QR code system, maybe it’s something online, maybe it’s an Instagram page. Whatever either, do it and do it well, but don’t try to do all the tools, because you’ll just overwhelm people and it will dilute the result.”
Facilitate travel in the city
Different cities emphasize different things. In Perth Amboy, it’s a QR code database for restaurants in the city; in New Brunswick, an electronic gift card program. Westfield has a similar incentive for e-gifts and is also installing electric vehicle charging stations.
In Newark and Asbury Park, scooter rentals in certain sections have proven popular.
“We wanted to bring mobility to households that don’t have cars in our city. It was really transportation equity,” said Michael Manzella, deputy city manager of Asbury Park. “But also, we wanted to provide an alternative means of transport to alleviate the demand for parking.”
Internet access remains the key
Finding and creating more usable outdoor spaces is something city leaders and their constituents have identified as important in the wake of COVID, and Newark and Jersey City are working on it.
According to Manzella, the eventual emergence of 5G coverage will help the internet tie all these plans together.
But some cities are already making hyper-local improvements to online access.
“Newark Fiber connects local businesses to high-speed Internet at a fraction of the cost of national competitors,” said Vanessa Quijano, senior vice president of business development for Invest Newark.
The technology can bring previously unthinkable benefits to downtown New Jersey, Bernardo said, even something like real-time monitoring of trash can levels.
But, he added, new technologies are most useful when residents and stakeholders are informed about what a community needs most. Changes therefore need to be communicated in multiple languages and with ongoing support for businesses that are not as quick to adapt.
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The Ultimate Guide to New Jersey Breweries
So what is a “brasserie”?
“A craft brewery is a hybrid between a restaurant and a brewery. It sells at least 25% of its beer on site in combination with extensive catering services. In a craft brewery, beer is primarily brewed for sale to the inside the restaurant or bar. Where legally permitted, breweries may sell beer to take-out or distribute it to certain off-site destinations.”
New Jersey has tons of Brewpubs, some of which have been around for years and some that just opened last year.