Zoning Barriers: An Industrial Revolutions in Ironbound Led by Immigrants Now they are the Most Vulnerable

by Ruben E. Izurieta

Site Description:

In the 1800s, the industrial boom in Newark was led by the first wave of Irish immigrants that moved to this city, specifically those who worked on the construction of the Morris Canal, a source of transportation of freight throughout the whole state of New Jersey during that time period. This jump started an interest for industry and manufacturing to move into Newark, therefore its “Zoning Building Plans” had to be modified in the best interest of the city, but with complete disregard of high populated residency areas around all this vast industry landscape. This investigation will help me determine  the relationship between Zoning in Newark in the past and the present, and the repercussions affecting latinos and other minorities in their everyday life around an impacted, and  polluted environment. 

Author Biography:

My name is Ruben Izurieta. I’m a student at NJIT pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture.  Following my uncle’s steps and from an early age, I was always interested in becoming an Architect. I was born in Ecuador and moved to the United States at an early age and in the course of my years here in the United States,  I have  witnessed and experienced the various challenges that latinos and other minorities face including housing conditions, employment and the right to be treated equally regardless of background, race, or physical appearance. The article read in class by Sara Grossman, “Off the Rail” on newest American really sparked an interest in investigating more about how “Zoning Building Plans” dictate and affect the choices latinos make when finding a place to live and how industries in their neighborhood affect their wellbeing.

Final Report:

The Ironbound voices newspaper expressed the opinions of the Ironbound people throughout 1978 – 2002 and presented the struggle of its people around an immense industry landscape. The publication in June 1987 of the Tri-Lingual newspaper Ironbound Voices depicted an image of two dump trucks deliberately dumping garbage in the Ironbound.[1]  In the front cover page of this edition, we can clearly examine how the newspaper focused directly on the voices of the immigrant community present in the Ironbound.  In top left corner we read Free for English readers, and then on the opposite corner we see Gratis (Free) for Spanish readers. The newspaper title in bold larger letters creates a focal point for the reader and provides the reader a location where this newspaper was from, right on top of the name of the newspaper we see the words Tri-lingual which indicates again who this paper is directed to. At the bottom of the page, we see English p. 1-5, Portuguese p. 6-8, Español 9-11 clearly specify the pages in which all the content will be translated to the different languages. Is visible the close relationship between the newspaper and its people. This image is so important because while it showed how garbage was deliberately dump in the neighborhood and the completely disregarded the impact in the environment and the residents’ health, it also revealed the Ironbound with its streets, and in bold black lines with numbers its Zoning Districts.

What are zoning districts you may ask? Zoning is a method of urban planning in which cities divide the land into zones. Those zones should regulate commercial or industrial use of land near residential areas.

The name Ironbound comes from the immense metalworking industry in the area from the network of railroad tracks that surrounded the neighborhood. The Ironbound landscape was a result of the industrial revolution that took place between 1837 to 1839 that introduced  railroads, the Morris Canal completion, factories, houses, shops, churches, schools that took over farmland.[2] Consequently, the Ironbound zoning had to accommodate zones in which residential, commercial and industrial can co-exist.

In the case of the Ironbound, Did zoning disregard  it essential goal to protect its residents from creating safer zoning guidelines to prevent environment disasters?   Was their main emphasis only industrial, and economic growth for the benefit of the city, but ignoring the impact to its land and most importantly to their residents. To best understand how immigrants in the Ironbound are directly affected by this industrial environment, it is crucial to analyze the city design through its Zoning and Urban Design. I will argue, while zoning aims to create order and most importantly protect residents from harmful land usage, but the local government in Newark placed minorities in hazardous zones of environment injustices and neglected the residents’ wellbeing.

This essay will first establish Zoning origins, why where they created in the first place, how this changed over time and how successful or not they have been in protecting residents in their cities. Then, I will refer to Newark’s Master Plan of 1964 to determine the layout in which the government envisions Newark’s future growth and industrial development ignoring residents’ health and their neighborhoods. Next, I will compare current zoning ordinance maps to poverty and demographics maps in the Ironbound area to best recognize specific areas where minorities are more vulnerable. Subsequently, examples of environmental injustices can help me addressed consequences of this local government decisions. Lastly, this essay will be attempted to provide potential solutions and discuss the new ordinance approved by the City of Newark 2016 which dictates that for any industrial or commercial development, companies must have a plan that provides future impacts to the land and sustainable goals.

Newark’s Zoning History

Earliest Zoning laws originated in Los Angeles in 1908 and then New York City zoning resolution in 1916 in respond to numerous demands from residents for the lack of air space and light between skyscrapers. This zoning laws not only regulated building height, but established zoning districts that separated residential and business districts. This zoning laws helped the government of each city divide the city to controlled who was there, what were they doing, and where they should go. The first City to try this new concept of zoning was San Francisco, The city banned public laundries from most areas in order to keep Chinese out. This law was later invalidated by the supreme court, but most importantly we can conclude zoning laws origins already did not work for the interest of the people in contrary they targeted a specific minority demographic. Another example, Los Angeles in 1909 attempted to keep heavy industry and commerce from certain neighborhoods, at first officials felt that by doing this it will mean to lose business, but landowners were upset because their property values had gone down because of factories in their neighborhoods, consequently we can imagine where those factories end up moving too, where people had not the voice or power to fight back.[3]

Newark and the Ironbound Industry revolution dates to the 1800’s and resulted from the first wave of Irish immigrant who moved to Newark seeking for new opportunities, but mainly helped with the construction of the Morris canal in which at that time helped carry tons of freight through a system of 23 water powered incline planes that climb above sea level across New Jersey.[4] The combination of Immigration and Industrialization created Newark’s cultural identity but most important arranged Newark Industrial zones directly in the Ironbound.

Each city possesses a Master Plan, this planning document provides a guideline for future growth and development. A master plan includes future proposal for site’s population, economy, housing, transportation and very important future land use. A master plan must help link the residents, buildings and its surroundings environments.[5] The master Plan  of 1964 City of Newark N.J described Existing land use in regard to residential development are mainly two- family and multi-family dwellings intermingled with commercial and industrial areas, and most relevant they describe that Ironbound neighborhood as the only one excluded from  Newark’s residential districts located at west of the Main Line of the Pennsylvania railroad.[6] The map in  Figure 1,  from the Master Plan, depicted how the Ironbound was completely surrounded by Industrial zone . The dark purple area showed the existing industrial zone, within the square in red we can see the Ironbound residential zone. The Ironbound evidently is the only residential zone well intermixed to Newark’s industrial zone. While the Master plans future Land goal is to improve residential neighborhoods trough renewal of area in poor conditions, and elimination of conflicting uses, [7] The Ironbound landscape clearly does not change overtime. It is also mentioned  in the Master Plan, that the industry makes a substantial portion of its economic base, and future growth depends on new job opportunities offered by its industry landscape. [8]

Figure 1, Master Plan 1964 City of Newark N.J, Planning Consultant: Candeub, Flessig Adley & Associates, Page 24

Now, When, comparing  the prior map from the Master Plan 1964  Figure1,  with the current  zoning map  in Newark, Zoning & Land Use Reguations from november 2014, Figure 2 , not much  has changed or improve for the residents  of the Irounbound. The distrubtion of zones has not changed nor  shows how the City is preventing  further industrial growth within its residental zone.

Figure 2 Newark Zoning and Land Use Regulations, prepared by Newark Planning Office 2013-2015, Page 22

The Ironbound residential zone mainly is depicted in bright orange Mixed-Use 1 Residential and Commercial zones, and also Dark Orange Mixed -Use 2 Residential, Commercial and Industrial zone, see figure 2. This zoning strategy allows for Mix use land uses that mainly focuses on the ability for new industrial development to enter the Ironbound and does not helps alleviate the impact to its resident and the environment. If we compare the map on Figure 2 to the overall map of City of Newark zoning map Figure 3, we can clearly see that other residential zones in the City of Newark shown in yellow are mainly in the west part of the city, and do not allow for mix use zones. This evidently targets the Ironbound neighborhood and consequently its immigrant residents.

Figure 3 Newark Zoning and Land Use Regulations, prepared by Newark Planning Office 2013-2015, Page 7

If we analyze Newark’s poverty, and Foreign-Born Population maps Figure 4, within a in a time frame of fifty years from 1960 to 2010 we can determine the following: In the Foreign-Born population map Newark’s immigrant population mostly concentrates towards the south of the city, in 1980 map the largest concentration of immigrants is shown in a darker blue, if compare to the zoning map Figure 3, it is directly in the heaviest industrial zone of Newark in darker purple and brown zones. Its pollution changes from south to center of Newark in which the Ironbound is located. From 1990 to 2010 it steadily immigrant community stayed within the Ironbound area o even extended greatly towards the Heavy Industrial I-3 zone district Label Industrial District on figure.

Figure 4  Carla Estudillo,10 Maps that show Newark’s dramatic changes since the riots, Posted July 14,2017

A similar scenario occurs in Newark’s Poverty maps from 1970-2010 where the poverty greater concentration started at west of the city, but steadily changes towards the south and center of Newark, but then stays fairly consisted in the area of the Ironbound.

It is evident that during the course of many   years the Ironbound has been completely overlooked, by the government, and has neglected its proximity to this heavy industrial zone, as result it has led to many environmental disasters.

Ironbound Voices

These two images from the Newspapers Ironbound Voices, I consider very powerful in communicating the negligence by chemical corporation and most important how government officials, county officials, and DEP Commissioner seems clueless and surprised about the issue. The image on the right showed two gentlemen talking from a crud chemical company. [9] They are discussing what to do with this chemical waste.  Under the chemicals in question, we can read in quotes “We can’t sell it, so let’s dump it in the Ironbound” evidently no penalty was going to occurred, no one cares, no government official, no environmental organization was going to do anything, therefore why not dumped this toxic chemical in the Ironbound. The voices of the Ironbound knew about situations happened all the time, but no one cares, no one was going to protect them, as minorities they had no voice. Similarity the image on the left showed a woman with vacuum sharing the polluted air to the County executive, a government official and the DEP Commissioner, then she claims “Gentlemen, experienced the air in the Ironbound”, These people on power are attending a population board meeting, but appeared so surprise, fear is evident in their faces, they are in panic mode as they see this dark smoke moving towards them for a moment feels they are ready to run.[10] 

They are ways in which we can address changes that can protect not only the resident in the Ironbound but also our environment. Newark municipal Council passed an Environmental Justice and Cumulative impacts Ordinance on July 13, 2016.[11] This ordinance targets in particularly problems of pollution in the poorest regions of Newark. It requires new developers industrial or commercial to develop proposals that include information about cumulative environmental impacts which allow decision makers and the people to assess the impact that this can bring to the community and its environment. Key point in the ordinance is:

  • Protect the health of all residents, regardless of race, culture or income from been exposed to pollution that can harm.
  • To minimize and mitigate pollution from all sources within Newark’s jurisdiction.
  • Encourage proposal for development or redevelopment that contribute positively to Newark’s environmental, economic, and social health.[12]

This are only a few of those guidelines that can make help make a change.


In conclusion, I believe that zoning in the Ironbound it is affecting directly its immigrant community. The City of Newark officials are turning their backs on immigrant communities that helped shaped this area. This is not an isolated case because neighborhoods like the Ironbound exist around the United States. It only takes one neighborhood (English), un barrio(Spanish), un vecindario(Portuguese) to start a change, and believe me more will follow, because ultimately, we all want to live in a clean environment that will impact our emotional, physiological and physical well-being.

[1] Cover Page Image; “Two Garbage Trucks Dumping Garbage in Ironbound,” Ironbound Voices, June 1987, https://digital.npl.org/islandora/object/ironboundvoices%3A63901f62-dbfa-479e-ad7e-e6aa36a438c4#page/1/mode/2up

[2] “The Ironbound’s Early History. Part I: Immigrants, Industry Remake a Once-Bucolic Down Neck,” History and Landscape, September 12,1996, Accessed Dec 14, 2020, https://knowingnewark.npl.org/the-ironbounds-early-history-part-i-immigrants-industry-remake-a-once-bucolic-down-neck/

[3] Amanda Erickson, “The Birth of Zoning Codes, A History,” Bloomberg CityLab, June 19, 2012, Accessed Dec 14, 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2012-06-19/the-birth-of-zoning-codes-a-history

[4] David Hartman, Barry Lewis,” A walk through Newark,” Thirteen Media With Impact, Accessed Dec 14, 2020, https://www.thirteen.org/newark/history2.html

[5] Rana Amir Tahmasebi, Mariana Orloff, Same Wahba, “Master Planning,” The World Bank, Accessed Dec 14, 2020, https://urban-regeneration.worldbank.org/node/51#:~:text=A%20master%20plan%20is%20a,settings%2C%20and%20their%20surrounding%20environments.

[6] City of Newark, New Jersey & Central Planning Board & Department of Administration, “Master Plan, 1964, City of Newark, N.J.”, Prepared by Division of City Planning and Candueb, Fleissig, Adley & Associates for Newark Central Planning Board.1966

[7] City of Newark, New Jersey & Central Planning Board & Department of Administration, “Master Plan, 1964, City of Newark, N.J.”, Prepared by Division of City Planning and Candueb, Fleissig, Adley & Associates for Newark Central Planning Board.1966, Page 34.

[8] City of Newark, New Jersey & Central Planning Board & Department of Administration, “Master Plan, 1964, City of Newark, N.J.”, Prepared by Division of City Planning and Candueb, Fleissig, Adley & Associates for Newark Central Planning Board. 1966. Page 46.

[9] Cover Page Image; ”‘We can’t sell it, so let’s dump it in Ironbound’” , Ironbound Voices, Dec.1980, Accessed Dec 14, 2020,  https://digital.npl.org/islandora/object/ironboundvoices%3A43a83e4d-aa69-419d-b34b-738a2edb7af3#page/1/mode/2up

[10] Cover Page Image; ”‘Gentleman, experience the air in Ironbound’” , Ironbound Voices, Nov.1984, Accessed Dec 14, 2020,  https://digital.npl.org/islandora/object/ironboundvoices%3Afc0085e1-82dd-4ec3-8a78-5fcd4122bf09#page/1/mode/2up

[11] “Newark Makes History with First-In-Nation Environmental Justice Ordinance,” Clean Water Action, Accessed Dec 14, 2020, https://www.cleanwateraction.org/features/newark-makes-history-first-nation-environmental-justice-ordinance

[12] “Newark, New Jersey Environmental Justice and Cumulative Impact Ordinance,” Adaption Clearinghouse, Accessed Dec 14, 2020,  https://www.adaptationclearinghouse.org/resources/newark-new-jersey-environmental-justice-and-cumulative-impact-ordinance.html

Primary Sources:

Secondary Sources:

  • Hoopes MD. Design to Connect: Complete Connectivity in the Ironbound. Published online January 1, 2018.

  This dissertation is written by recent graduate in Landscape Architecture at Rutgers University describes the history of Newark, The Ironbound. Also talks about Industrial history and toxic legacy. Explains the relationship between Immigration and its industry. As an architect he analyses zoning and the way this regulates the structure of a neighborhood and decides where commercial and residential areas are located

This Dissertation can help me understand and learned more the relationship between immigrant communities and the industry in the ironbound. As an architect the way he analyzed zoning can be helpful to understand the link between zoning and immigrant communities and how those affected the way those minorities are exposed to toxic environments.  

  • Gibbons, J. (2015). Does Racial Segregation Make Community-Based Organizations More Territorial? Evidence from Newark, Nj, and Jersey City, Nj. Journal of Urban Affairs37(5), 600–619

This article pays close attentions racial / ethnic segregation within the city and its neighborhoods. Analyzed in depth the neighborhood and racial composition typology.

This article will help me learned about the Ironbound ethnic typology, consequently been able to identify its relationship to zoning distributions. Also talks about their industrial history that has been affected due to population loss, and deindustrialization. In consequence the city to is changing from industrial to a service economy.

  •   York, Abigail, et al. “Zoning and Land Use: A Tale of Incompatibility and Environmental Injustice in Early Phoenix.” Journal of Urban Affairs, vol. 36, no. 5, unav, Nov. 2016, pp. 833–53, doi:10.1111/juaf.12076.

This article analyzes “Zoning and land Use, and the relationship to environmental injustice in early Phoenix.

This article will be so helpful for me because I can conduct a similar study of zoning and environmental injustice analyzed in Phoenix, and compare to my site. Been able to relate why zoning was establish in the first place as a mean of promoting urban order and maintain a healthy environment.

Image Analysis:


Ironbound Voices was a Tri- Lingual newspaper that represented the voices of the people about the many issues that the area of the ironbound encountered throughout the years. Contamination, Toxins chemicals, garbage’s incinerators, airplane noise, immigration etc. The Public Library of Newark possessed digitalized archives of the many issues. It is clear in every issues of this newspaper the front cover page it’s the way they want to make a big impression of the reader with their “cartoon like” imagery that  showed  people issues related to poisonous chemicals, dumps, garbage, war  and many  issues that the ironbound was dealing on those times. The ironbound throughout  the years has  been battling a uphill battle against big corporations that’s disregard the importance of proper disposal of toxic chemicals, garbage disposal and even as portraited in this both images EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) have not put in a  plan to protect the people, communities and environmental  impacted in the ironbound. In consequence the area became an environmental disaster which lead for people that could leave the area (white people), but left black, Latinos communities to stay and lived around this extremely dangerous site conditions.

The image on the left show us the EPA dumping Toxic waste in the riverbanks, presumably in the Passaic river. The main idea that this image wanted to portrait was how the   EPA was allowing this big corporations to dump all their toxins without any proper procedure that will protect their environment.  The image shows vegetation in the far back as well as the three in the right which shows the impacted that this will cause in the ironbound area.  A dark background and an immensely powerful quote were written

“No, Dummy Killing innocent civilians with poisonous chemicals is only immoral during wartime!”. War times referred to the late phase of the Cold war between the Soviet Union and the West. The threat of nuclear was had reached new heights.  Therefore, the images wanted to portraited that at that point worry about toxic waste disposal was less important, and war must take our whole attention.

The image in the right showed the same issued as the one before when the DEP’S plan for cleaning up the Dioxins in Ironbound  was  to removed the toxins from the side yard of the house but only moving around the house to the rear of the home. The community in the Ironbound clearly felt that no one had a plan for the proper cleaning not even the Environment agency which was supposed to protect them was not taking the appropriate measurements to do so.

The EPA during this time was trying to build a garbage incinerator in the Ironbound are but the whole community was committed to stop this for happening. In the article mentioned in this edition of the newspapers they talked about how the state governor and redevelopers are going to spend money to clean up some sites around the ironbound not because they felt was dangerous for the people, but for the construction of housing and for the garbage incinerator. Many are the sites that needed attention but that was not the concerned of the authorities during this period.

In conclusion I feel that authorities and organization such as EPA at this time had not given any importance to the environmental injustice occurring in the Ironbound. The people unfortunately felt their voice was not heard and even if they fight against this big corporations or governments officials, they were destined to lose the battle. People that had the economic ability to leave the Ironbound did not hesitate to do so, but minorities black, Latinos with low income were trapped and will have to learned how to live under this conditions.

Data Analysis:

Oral Interviews:

Video Story: