By. Tom Irving
All across our nation post-industrial cities have seen a renewal in economic development. Long gone is the manufacturing base that once was the corner stone of northern cities.(Gillette) Instead a new landscape is being spearheaded by institutions of higher education, transforming the cities they occupy into an urban oasis for students and residents alike. By doing this universities are able to keep a constant presence in the city, persuading students to live where they go to school is one of the ways to accomplish this. By having students living on campus or throughout the city creates a community and an untapped student market that Camden would prosper and grow with.
In order to support a student population, first there must places for the students to live. At Rutgers-Camden, there are currently three on-campus resident buildings. The newest dorm on campus in twenty-five years, bares the same name as it’s address 330 Cooper. Camden Tower, a ten story building that serves as the residence hall of first-year students. The third is the Camden Apartments, which houses non-first year undergraduate students. All combined, there are about600 hundred students who live on campus. A smaller number of students live off campus in the cities Cooper Grant neighborhood, near the Ben Franklin Bridge. (www.camden.rutgers.edu/housing) With such a small percentage of students living on campus it is no surprise that weekends around the campus looks like a ghost town.
With New Jersey voters passing the Building Our Future Bond Act, $750 million have been borrowed to improve higher education in New Jersey. For Rutgers-Camden according to the Rutgers-Camden Chancellor Wendell Pritchett, the funds that Rutgers would receive would be designated to build two new dorms and classroom space, citing need in those areas Pritchett has said “We think this has the potential to not only transform our campus, but downtown Camden. (Dunn)
Providing students with a wide variety of residency options is a major component in attracting students to campus. However, once the students are on campus, they need to be entertained. To the non -resident student at Rutgers, it appears that there is nothing to do in Camden and that the city lacks a retail base or stores that provide basic needs of the students. Currently Cooper Street seems to have more abandoned buildings, and then establishments that serve students that are typically found in a traditional college town. My idea of a student; based economy is that the city sort of functions to cater to the needs of the students and universities. With Rutgers acquisition of schools of Nursing and Business, Chancellor Pritchett may be able to achieve his goal of increasing enrollment to 7,000, with a new majority of undergraduates who will create a demand for student housing. With an increased student population a scholastic community would develop that could rival those of Camden’s glory days.
A factor that seems to be forgotten about is that the students who live on campus need to be entertained. The waterfront that currently exists in the city hosts a concert venue, an aquarium and a minor league baseball stadium, which owned by Rutgers. The university provides activities on campus and day trips, an effort to key students on campus.
But what is good for Philadelphia is not necessarily good for Camden. Students shop across the river, because they cannot easily find what they need in the area around Rutgers. If Camden had several retail areas, similar to most cities, those students would spend the money in Camden. With an increased student population, provided by the dorms a new market will emerge. Driven by students whose consumerism patterns will demand the same establishments enjoyed by others on campus communities. Cooper Street would be transformed into a bustling strip of store fronts catering to the needs of students, both for the commuter and resident. A city that is able to provide a resident with their wants and needs makes living in that city more appealing.
For Camden, an increase in businesses means an increase in tax revenue, which means the city can provide more for the residents of the city. Overtime with the market created by Rutgers and its students, the city would hope to use the positive upswing to attract larger businesses, either along the waterfront or throughout the city. Through their capital and new willingness to do business in Camden, could restore the former glory of the city.
Rutgers however has made a commitment to the city, while city hall has tried other methods of reviving the city’s economy that have for the most part ended unsuccessfully. These include PILOT programs offered to companies in order to attract businesses. An agreement between business and a city to make payment lesser than the value of the property tax, a state government take over, when the state government overrides the power of the mayor, holds no accountability to residents, and revitalization in one area of the city.(Katz) It has been said the Rutgers-Camden’s campus is an oasis in the middle of urban decay. Chancellor Pritchett has made it his mission to spread that oasis throughout the city, through programs offered by the University for the betterment of Camden. Whether Camden residents are aware of them or not but there are several programs and community events targeted towards the betterment of their community, sponsored or facilitated by Rutgers these include: education ambassadors, CamServe and access to a library. Education ambassadors are students who travel to North Camden schools, offering tutoring services for city children. CamServe is a student organization that participates in community based clean up and improvement projects.(www.camden.rutgers.edu/ civic scholars) Finally, after the 2011 closure of Camden’s Public Library System, Rutgers opened their doors allowing city residents access to their own city library, albeit smaller. When the focus is on what has not been done in the city, the viewpoint is always going to be negative. When the focus on what has been done and what is going on, Rutgers proves they are dedicated to the betterment of neighborhood around campus and city as a whole
Some would argue that calling for an increase in population in Camden, would be unrealistic, citing that the city can barely provide basic services to the population they already serve. With cuts to the police force in place and full dismantle looming in the near future, (Mast) Camden’s crime rate has been well documented locally and nationally, how could a city protect its citizens along with an increase in students? The answer to that question lies within Rutgers by employing their own police force; growth would be in proportion with growth of the university.
History has seen Camden grow as a prosperous ship building city peaking in the post war years of the Baby Boom generation, with a population of 125,000 residents and 58,000 jobs in manufacturing alone. The city experienced four years of economic growth and development, coinciding with increased consumer spending. The Sixties were a different story for the city, 19,000 jobs were lost in a thirteen year period. As companies looked to cut cost and avoid organize labor, companies such as Campbell’s and RCA Victor relocated west and south. The effect crippled Camden’s economy causing residents to wrestle with the idea of moving in search of employment and remembering their ties to the city.(Gillette)
For those not already drawn to the suburbs for various reasons, the riots of 1971 accelerated the “White Flight”. Some residents cite that the loss of personal security was the final straw, along with pollution and congestion, not just loss of jobs caused them to move.(Gillette) Forty years later and Camden has not seemed to change much post-riot, with the few exceptions of Rutgers, Cooper and the waterfront. With Rutgers, Rowan and Camden County College all poised to grow in the city; it would be foolish for the city of Camden not to put themselves in position to grow alongside these institutions.
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Gillette, Howard. “Camden Transformed.” Camden after the Fall: Decline and Renewal in a Post-industrial City. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2006. N. pag. Print.
“New Jersey.” South Jersey Newspapers. Gloucester County Times, 08 Aug. 2012. Web. 24 Nov. 2012.
Katz, Matt. “Camden: The Promise and the Price | Philadelphia Inquirer.” Camden: The Promise and the Price | Philadelphia Inquirer. Philadelphia Media Network, n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2012.
Mast, George. “Camden Signs off on Police Layoffs.” Courier-Post. Gannett News Corp., 29 Nov. 2012. Web. 03 Dec. 2012
Alex, Patricia. “N.J. Voters Approve Referendum to Borrow $750M for College Projects.” The Record. Northjersey.com, 06 Nov. 2012. Web. 24 Nov. 2012.