Rebuilding Camden: Not Just From the Ground-Up

By: Alexis

Camden suffered industrial degeneration in the 20th century as the manufacturers and residents fled the city. At Camden’s peak, 365 industries employed 51,000 people, the majority at RCA, New York Ship Company, and Campbell Soup (Gillette). By the 1960s, Camden had been losing jobs and residents for nearly thirty years due to economic decay, highway construction, and racial tensions. Currently, the small amount of employers in the city is not enough. Most employees commute to Philadelphia from neighboring suburbs like Cherry Hill. To try to revive this once-vibrant city, several different redevelopment and revitalization plans have been attempted along the Waterfront and in key neighborhoods. However, these plans have been unsuccessful overall, focusing too heavily on superficial and tourist-oriented redevelopment. Plans that are multi-dimensional, encompassing all aspects of the city should be implemented to ensure regrowth and success of the city as a whole. These plans should touch on core issues within the city, residential communities, industry and tourism.

The new revitalization plans would address core, bottom-up issues that discourage new residents, tourism, and general inner-city activity. In 2010, the city’s violent crime rate was 476.74% higher than that of the nation, and its property crime rate was 50.44% higher than the nation’s (“Camden Crime”). One of the major causes of crime in Camden is poverty. 44% of Camden’s population meets the criteria for Federal Poverty while 71.6% meet the criteria for True Poverty, defined as 200% below Federal Poverty (Quaal). Another cause of crime is the education rate. Only 36.7% of students graduated high school in 2003 (Quaal).

Many critics view these factors as a perpetuating cycle: increased poverty leads to a lower education rate, which leads to increased crime rate, which leads to an increased poverty rate. These issues deter possible residents and business from wanting to settle in Camden, seeing the environment as a direct threat to their wellbeing. In order to alleviate those issues, cities such as Chicago have implemented computerized prevention systems to predict and lessen crime. This system allows crime stats from previous years, as well as from current years to be input and analyzed. Then, the police and security departments can use those results to more strategically place and plan their presence throughout the city, becoming proactive instead of reactive (Zielenbach). Doing so would allow the city to redistribute police and other enforcement officials more efficiently, making the police presence more effective, possibly even lifting the need for a bigger police force. Also, Chicago nonprofits and religious groups formed different programs and activities to address the basic needs of the community. These included programs for children, homeownership classes, college opportunity scholarship programs, and on-the-job training classes (Zielenbach). These programs would encourage education, community involvement, and employment, lowering the negative rates affecting the city.

Other cities have created Safe and Clean Programs. These programs use partnerships between community organizations, private businesses, and the city government to increase law enforcement presence, keeps streets and sidewalks clean, and provide information and resources for those in need (Feehan). These actions will improve how outsiders see the city. The changes may even encourage newcomers all on their own. Though there are several other ways a city or community may address the core issues of crime, poverty, and education, it is imperative that these issues be addressed if the city hopes to move forward and redevelop successfully.

Once the core issues are addressed, one of the next things a city needs to develop and enhance is the issue of the condition of current residential areas. 13.2% of housing units in the City of Camden are vacant (Quaal). People left the city in search of the promises of safety, security, and convenience of the suburbs. Cherry Hill offered higher property value, lower crime rates, and better education systems, while still offering convenient access to the Philadelphia for employees of the city (Gillette). Some cities have enhanced their residential situations by paying closer attention to the basic needs and amenities offered by the communities. They have attempted to make basic needs more pedestrian-friendly by creating neighborhood community centers with basic athletic facilities, small libraries equipped with students who act as tutors to younger children, and small convenience stores for basic food and pharmacy needs. Individuals and community groups man these accommodations (Feehan). In conjunction with the Clean and Safe Programs, the residential life of the city would become the responsibility of everyone that lived there, improving the community and residential atmosphere overall. Once this is improved, the city could bring in mixed-income housing, strategically balancing market-rate housing with government subsidies. This may cause redevelopment of the actual housing facilities to become more successful and permanent.

While more successful and permanent residential improvements are taking place, Camden needs to also bring in more commerce and industry. Over a century ago, the riverfront was inundated with production buildings that took advantage of the access to the Delaware River and railroad. Along with these commercial buildings came the demand for smaller businesses like restaurants and bars (Gillette). Recession and financial woes changed this for the city. Many companies and industries left the waterfront in search of more affordable locations. Many had to lay off workers and close facilities. For example, Campbell soup had to lay off 400 employees, and, in 1991, closed its last Camden processing plant (Gillette). Many other cities have faced this issue in the wake of economic trouble.

Cities in Japan used government guidelines in conjunctions with the express needs of the residents to develop a mutually appealing, effective arrangement. Together, they designed small shopping districts throughout the city making them accessible to all different neighborhoods, and they also decided to build them in phases. During the first phase, stores that supplied necessities and every-day items were built. These stores, once established, were joined by stores that offered things that were considered more frivolous and might appeal to outsiders as a way to bring in more revenue for the city (Gilman).

In addition to these shopping districts, the Japanese government repurposed old factory buildings to use them as industrial parks and office buildings, creating industrial park communities. This was cheaper, faster, and more effective than building new buildings where the old ones already stood (Gilman). In Camden, more industry and commerce would mean more jobs. This would positively affect the atmosphere of the city, drawing outside shoppers, as well as making retail locations more accessible to the residents. With an improved crime rates and residential neighborhoods, more retail, industry, and commerce could even drawing new residents in to the city.

With all those aspects of life coming together within the city, Camden would also do well to pull in more tourism. Though the Aquarium opened on 1992, and a pavilion on the waterfront soon joined it, these attractions were only popular initially; their touristic draw fading quickly due to the reputation of the city and the idea that they were stable attractions, rarely changing or evolving. Japanese cities found the same results from their tourist attractions until they incorporated them into a broader renovation plan (Gilman). A tourist redevelopment plan would be much more successful when used in conjunction with plans to revive the rest of the city as well.

In the past, Camden was a thriving, independent city. Now decades later, it has disintegrated greatly to a city with high crime, very few jobs, and little appeal to the outside world. Redevelopment efforts thus far have been shallow and unsuccessful. In order for a revitalization plan to be more successful in the future, it must encompass all aspects of city life, as each part helps to sustain and encourage the others, such as core issues within the city, residential communities, industry and tourism. Many cities have found success with plans like this, and, in order for any long lasting results to be seen, Camden should implement a similar, multi-dimensional plan of redevelopment.


Work Cited

“Camden Crime Rate Report (New Jersey).”CityRating.Com. 2012: Web. 13 Nov. 2012.


Feehan, David, and Marvin D. Feit. Making Business Districts Work. New York: The

Hawthorne Press, 2006. Print.

Gillette, Howard. Camden After the Fall. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,

2005. Print.

Gilman, Theodore. No Miracles Here. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.


Quaal, Melissa. Poverty in the City of Camden . Legal Services of New Jersey Poverty

Research Institute, 2007. Print.

Zielenbach, Sean. The Art of Revitalization. New York: Garland Publishing, 2000. Print.



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