Perhaps the discerning readers of Condé Nast Traveler have never taken in the pulsing, aromatic allure of Newark’s Ironbound enclave on a summer night.
Perhaps they’ve never seen a concert at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center or experienced the communal spell of a Bruce Springsteen marathon at the Prudential Center.
Perhaps they’ve barely stepped foot outside Newark Liberty International Airport, admittedly a delay-prone and unglamorous facility that can give anyone a case of the grumps.
How else to explain that the magazine’s readers rated Newark the unfriendliest city on the planet? Not New Jersey. Not the nation. The planet.
According to the informal, unscientific survey of 46,000 readers, Newark is more unfriendly than Islamabad, Pakistan (#2); Oakland, Calif. (#3); Luanda, Angola (#4) and Kuwait City, Kuwait (#5).
Adding insult to injury for the Garden State, readers rated Atlantic City the world’s ninth-most unfriendly burg.
At the other end of the spectrum, the survey found Florianopolis, Brazil, nicknamed “the island of magic,” the world’s friendliest city, followed by Hobart, Tasmania, and Thimpu, Bhutan, if you can find it on a map.
“Newark is best known for being the site of an airport near New York, and for many of our readers, that’s the only reason to stop there,” wrote the editors of Condé Nast Traveler, owned by the Newhouse family, which publishes The Star-Ledger.
The editors quoted one unnamed reader as saying he or she “would not recommend this city for anything.”
The Ironbound did get credit for its Portuguese food, but that apparently wasn’t enough to offset brushes with the “local crowd.” One reader reported she “ran into a lot of rude people there.”
Newark’s overall reader rating: 13.4 out of 100.
Those who live or work in Newark, of course, had a thing or two to say about the survey findings.
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” said Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex), a Newark native who swiftly rattled off a list of friendly city amenities, including the city’s bustling colleges, its annual African-American heritage parade and its semi-famous Cherry Blossom Festival at Branch Brook Park.
Maybe it’s a matter of dated national perception, mused the Rev. David Jefferson, pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church. But the Newark of today is clearly not the Newark of yesterday, Jefferson said, adding that violence is down and amenities are up. Jefferson offered a guided tour to naysayers, suggesting they might be surprised.
“What they’re probably not aware of is that we have people who are wanting to return to Newark,” Jefferson said. “It’s no longer a place people speak of being from. It’s a place people want to be.”
Stephen Bracco is one of those people.
Three years ago, the 50-year-old proofreader and his girlfriend moved from New York City to the Ironbound, where they found a more affordable home and what Bracco described as a vibrant neighborhood.
“Calling people unfriendly here is really laughable,” he said. “The city has economic problems. … But I’ve never had a problem with anyone being unfriendly.”
Mayor Cory Booker’s chief spokesman, James Allen, made an argument common to several of Newark’s defenders.
“These survey participants have clearly never left the airport,” Allen said. “We forgive them — and encourage them to visit soon.”
South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka extended his own invitation.
“They will be pleasantly surprised that we represent the color, the sauce, lifeblood of this country, and we are coming back,” Baraka said.
Maybe visitors need to make a stop in the performing arts center. John Schreiber, NJPAC’s chief executive officer, said he found the survey findings “unbelievable.”
“We have 400,000 people come through the doors every year,” he said, “and everyone seems to be happy to be in Newark.”
Star-Ledger staff writers Eric Sagara and Barry Carter contributed to this report.
Read the story at NJ.com (Aug. 2, 2013)