Newark, Delaware – Raising the Bar

Shakespeare penned the famous line, “Though she be but little, she is fierce.”

That’s become a credo for the little guy. It’s a reminder that a smaller stature can still be strong.

Newark, Delaware, is small. It’s just nine square miles. But packed in that perfect little square is a perfect combination punch: a city that operates with purpose and passion. They are fierce in their commitment to their businesses. They are fierce in their commitment to sustainability. And they are fierce in their commitment to their people. 

“I don’t want to be a politician,” shares Mayor of Newark, Stu Markham. “I want to be an elected official that helps my neighbors because whatever I do, it’s for my neighbors. And most neighbors have trust and confidence in what we’re doing.”

Flexing their Muscles

What Newark is doing is impressive, to say the least. “There’s alot going on in the city,” Markham says. “We’re alway looking for new ways to do things– to do better.” For starters, they operate their own utilities. “It’s fantastic that we don’t have to rely on anyone,” Chief Communications Officer, Jayme Gravell, states. “We’ve won awards for our utilities. We’re in the top 1% for safety in our electric department… that works well for us as a government and for our residents. They get high quality everything from us.” 

“We try to stay ahead of things in terms of roads and water,” Markham continues. “Our police are well trained. Our crime rate is low.” 

“I like to say the city’s alive all the time. You know, in some cities at night, after the businesses send their people home– there’s nothing,” Markham muses. “But we’re very much alive all the time.” The city hosts a slew of festivals throughout the year. There are concerts, history tours, and chances to experience art (a la the Newark Arts Alliance). 

“It’s a pretty fantastic place,” Mark Arehart, Executive Director of The Newark Partnership, gushes. “It’s a big attraction for young people, young families, not only students, but people who are a little older… to be close to everything, but not in the center of everything, which is excellent. This is part of the reason why I love being in Delaware. I don’t really want to live anywhere else.”

Working Together

Newark is a small community of 31,000, but it is just a stone’s throw away from Philadelphia, Baltimore, DC, and New York City. “It makes this a very connected area of the country and a very connected college town, which is different from your average college town of the same scale and scope,” explains Arehart. “And it makes it a really livable place, not only for students and people who want to have fun, but for families like mine.” 

Newark is home to the University of Delaware. It’s their core, actually, according to Markham. College towns offer all sorts of additional opportunities for a community: events, educational offerings, research initiatives, intellectual prowess, youthful energy, and partnerships. When the Chrysler manufacturing plant closed in Newark in 2008, a big, vacant building was left behind. UD purchased it, making it part of their campus. Big businesses have moved in, like Bloom and Chemours, benefiting everyone. “So it’s not just the city doing economic development,” Markham believes. “The university is as well.” 

Newark has become experts in repurposing, too. Markham says he “likes to solve more than one problem with a solution sometimes.” They developed an old city landfill into a solar park. When UD no longer needed a dormitory, they sold it to the city, who tore it down and created a park. They also turned an old paper mill into a park. “It was mostly in a floodplain,” Markham explains, “so we turned that into a passive park that actually protects people downstream by taking the flood…We’ve done what we can in terms of storm water to reduce those issues.”

They’ve also built their own reservoir, one of the few cities in Delaware to do so. “It takes care of a lot of our load issues because when the students come back, the water usage goes up for some reason,” Markham laughs. The reservoir is beautiful, actually, and it connects to Redd Park, Newark’s largest park. 

Speaking of parks, Newark has 36 of them, along with 19 square miles of trails and 660 acres of open parkland. “The bikeability, walkability, and hikeabilty of the city is almost unparalleled,” boasts Arehart. “Our Parks & Recreation Department really cares about the way the city looks, the way the city feels, and how its residents can interact with the city. They have year-round programs that are fantastic,” he adds.

The Parks and Rec Department is an integral part of Newark. They host hundreds of events year round. Each quarter, Gravell explains, “we send out an activity guide that has hundreds of different activities like yoga. Or how to create your own essential oils. Or you can join a volleyball team.” The options are endless, really. “This goes back to us wanting to be a city of neighbors and friends. If someone has an idea for something that we don’t offer, we’ll try it! We listen to people. We want to give them what they want.”

“The people are great,” Markham continues. “I mean, we’re all neighbors here.” Gravell agrees. “You feel like your neighbors are looking out for you,” she shares. “You feel like there’s always something to do.

That ‘something to do’ lies primarily in Newark’s dynamic downtown. “Main Street is an excellent attraction– one of the best attractions in the entire state,” says Arehart. “It’s the heart of the commerce portion of the city, and also the recreation portion of the city.” They’ve been a Great American Main Street Award winner. There are shops, restaurants, and cafes. “There are more coffee shops than I can count,” Arehart laughs. “I’ve got five different meetings next week at five different coffee shops… It’s not only a great place to stay caffeinated, but a great place to bring your family for a family meal.”

“I think one of the other things that is really unique about our Main Street is that we do have great restaurants, we do have great coffee shops, but we also have really unique retailers,” Gravell states. One such store is called Rooted. Everything they sell is handmade by local artisans– upwards of 300 individual artists in the area. There’s also the Delaware Growler, the largest craft beer filling store in the entire state. There are kegs– many of them– all brimming with craft beer. “A lot of them are locally brewed,” attests Gravell. “You can go in, sample them, and take some home. It’s super cool.” There’s a popular game store called Days and Nights. There’s places to take art classes. The list goes on and on. 

This is where The Newark Partnership comes in (TNP). They are a nonprofit community organization that tries to connect people, nonprofits, the city, and the University of Delaware– all of the major stakeholders across the community.

Arehart, newly hired as the Executive Director, believes “the community is always pursuing new businesses and business opportunities. Not only in our vibrant downtown, but also in the surrounding area. I know we have some core businesses that we’re looking to not only bolster our relationships, but develop even further relationships with. Those are companies like Gore and Bloom and Chemours. They are really really big into giving back to the community. They make it a point to be a real presence – not only as job creators in the area, but also they’re present on our main street. They’re present on nonprofit boards. They’re present in schools. It’s about showing up in your community and that’s the kind of business that we like to foster in this community.”

Reaching for the Sky

The Sustainable Newark Initiative ensures long-term economic prosperity and also equitable inclusion for community members and businesses across the city. “We have a lot of things in the pipeline, a lot of community events in the pipeline,” Arehart says. “We’re really excited about it.” 

“The city of Newark,” Arehart continues, “is really focused on not only renewable energy, but being a place that attracts businesses that value renewable energies and inclusivity as well.”

The city recently received a grant to install more EV chargers in the city. They will also purchase EVs for their fleet of cars. Gravell says they plan to replace a lot of their older model cars with EVs, “which will help with our footprint.”

They recently cut the ribbon on a new solar field, allowing them to produce more solar energy. In addition, they expanded their solar park in different areas of the city. They added solar to the roofs of city hall, the police department, and the municipal buildings. “It was a lot,” laughs Gravell. “We have a lot of solar in Newark.” 

Newark, by the way, is pronounced New-ARK. Which, fittingly, describes this remarkable city. Newark sets the bar incredibly high for what a city should be. But it’s not a bar exactly.  It’s an arc. Because they are flexible. They are learning. They are growing. They are raising the bar on what it means to provide for their people. 

Mark Twain reminds us that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight. It’s the size of the fight in the dog. While the small city of Newark might border on perfection, Markham is still grounded: “We are a city of humans, which means we are not perfect, of course. But we think we’re a pretty good place to live.”