By: Chris Devine
The city of Camden used to be the center of industrialization in South Jersey. Now it is a sprawling landscape of corruption and urban decay, mixed with poverty and crime.
So how did Camden fall from grace so quickly? The answer is simple.
Camden has always been known as a stronghold for the Democratic party in NJ, but the city has had three mayors ousted from office due to corruption over the past few decades.
The state has spent years funneling financial aid into the city to help it rebuild, but that money continuously disappeared time after time.
Dr. Stephen Danley, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Administration at Rutgers University-Camden, says that Camden’s problem can be seen in any other post-industrial city on the East coast.
“When the suburbs began to grow, jobs began to grow with them, like the Cherry Hill Mall for example,” said Danley. “This led to jobs and people beginning to leave the city of Camden. Then the suburbs turned around and said ‘Let’s put everything we don’t like into Camden.’”
Danley also runs a “Local Knowledge” blog, where he gives his takes on different issues surrounding Camden.
Danley points to the book, “Camden After the Fall” by Howard Gillette to explain the inner workings of the city’s political machine. Gillette focuses on the “comeback cities” approach that the federal government took to revitalize post-industrial cities that had come under economic distress.
Essentially, the city continuously failed to publicly invest money to boost jobs and the local economy. The state’s dollars remained within a circle of only a few people who ran the city and left Camden to wither and wilt away, the economy and population along with it. Much of the city is full of boarded-up or dilapidated row homes. Hookers and drug dealers on street corners are a common sight.
Yet, walking around the business district of the Camden, it is hard to see that the city suffers from any kind of economic hardships. The center of town is home to campuses of Rutgers, Rowan and Camden County Colleges, as well as many businesses.
The city has begun to do a better job in putting that state aid where it needs to go. New businesses have opened, parks have begun to undergo revitalization and a glimmer of hope shines on the once thriving riverfront town.
“To get Camden going again, the people need to be able to work with the politicians and work together,” said Tammy Quach, 21, Human Services major at Camden County College. “The city is home to everyone so you can’t have the rich reaping the rewards while kicking the poor out as well.”
The road to recovery for the city has been long and treacherous, but there are avenues for Camden to pick itself up quickly and begin to strive again.
“Camden has been the victim of some bad deals,” said Danley. “Camden needs to be less dependent on state aid and rebuild from within.”
Just last year, the Philadelphia 76ers opened a brand new training facility across the street from the BB&T Center in the entertainment district. The facility brought plenty of jobs with it, as well as giving Camden the respect of being the training home of a professional basketball franchise.
Walking through the streets of Camden, there are signs that the city is progressing. People are walking to school to get a college degree while others are walking to work to clock in and begin a productive day, all with slight smiles on their faces. A sight that may not have been seen ten or fifteen years ago.
No matter how bad the situation in Camden got, there were always optimists who dreamed that the city would return to its former glory. Now that there are signs that Camden is making a slight return, it reminds those citizens who have been through the rise and fall to never lose sight of the one thing that matters.