Camden, New Jersey is on the CNU XV Program

Camden, New Jersey is the greatest challenge New Urbanism will ever face. Camden has the highest poverty rate in the nation. It's urban landscape is horribly bleak. Yet it arguably has the best undeveloped location assets in the country.

It's waterfront faces Philly's Society Hill. It has a clean, ultra-modern high speed rail line that runs through it, from the distant eastern suburbs through the heart of Philadelphia's downtown, historic and high end residential districts, terminating at Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia.

Downtown Camden is a five minute subway ride from downtown Philadelphia, and nine minutes from Rittenhouse Square.

Camden has an almost endless supply of vacant lots and other Infill opportunities near waterfront and transportation assets.

The city has finally been purged of the incompetent and corrupt oligarchy that has run the city for decades. Camden is the only city in New Jersey without a local government. The Governor, Jon Corzine, serves as defacto mayor. He is an ex CEO of Goldman Sachs. The development and permitting process has been streamlined for fast tracking. Abundant tax breaks and other lucrative incentives are in place. In the last few months Corzine has moved rapidly to develop the city. ( After the final purge of political obstacles and entrenched incompetent officials.)

On the heels of this purge, Campbells Soup announced a $100 million development project and new world HQ. Several $ billions in waterfront development has already broken ground. It is time to look beyond Camden's reputation, and current investigations and criminal trials of purged officials and look to the new Camden unfolding. New Urbanist's seeking opportunities should consider Camden, New Jersey.

Pictures of Camden:
Michael McAteer


New Jersey on the program

There are some great tours that look at urbanism and New Jersey.
Check them out at

Heather Smith
Planning Director
Congress for the New Urbanism

CNU XV Tours / New Jersey

Thank you for the tip. There are so many issues here relevant to Camden.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING: That Camden has absorbed virtually all the Mt. Laurel RCA's in the region is a ongoing controversy. Camden has relieved the area suburban communities of their mandated obligations through COAH loopholes. Can an area have too much affordable housing concentrated in it? ( As in Section 8 etc., ownership subsidies etc.) that a small city takes on a irreversible "institutional" character with all the accompanying support services that is repelling to potential self-sufficient newcomers? (Camden has no tax base to speak of, and is almost completely dependent for financing on the state.)

DESIGN FOR ALL: If any city needs to be redesigned, it's Camden. ( Since a program for this session has not yet been created, please consider Camden's Mickle Blvd. It is anchored at one end by Campbell Soups $100 million new world HQ (announced last week) and the scenic Delaware River waterfront. Walt Whitman's house A National Landmark and the PATCO HI-SPEED LINE commuter rail station is smack in the middle. Many large gaps everywhere else. I think this street has the greatest potential for revitalizing downtown, but has not seemed to received any credible consideration in the Master Plan. The 2nd tallest building in Camden, the depressingly forboding county jail looms over the Blvd. at its center. Ironically it is directly across the street from the house of Walt Whitman, probably the freest man America ever produced. Whitmans house is completely surrounded by vacant lots, if anyone is interested. Whitman wrote:

I DREAM’D in a dream, I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth;

I dream’d that was the new City of Friends;

Nothing was greater there than the quality of robust love—it led the rest;

It was seen every hour in the actions of the men of that city,

And in all their looks and words.

The Blvd. is the widest street in the city. It can be greatly narrowed and made to be a bit winding from Federal St. to the River. The narrowing and close cropping will allow the jail to be hidden from view at sidewalk / street level by much shorter buildngs. There would be little to - no demolition necessary, since it is bordered mostly by parking lots and vacant lots. A little twisting and winding can bypass and remove the need for demolishing any existing structures along the route. The end points would connect the two main development sites in the city, the waterfront and Campbell Soups new gateway project, about 1.5 miles apart . Also on this blvd. is the expanding NJ University of Medicine and Denistry

MANAGING WALKABLE URBANITY:Camden does not have even one walkable block of "Urbanity."

NEW URBANISM AND THE OLD CITY: I'm not sure if this means great enduring old neighborhoods like Society Hill or Queens Village in Philly or "Old" as in worn out, like Camden.

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN RETAIL: Camden has no retail that attracts anyone from outside the city.

SPINNING STRAW INTO GOLD: NEW URBAN REDEVELOPMENT IN HISTORIC NEW JERSEY DOWNTOWNS: Camden, the virtually hollow 8.8 sq. mile core of the Phila. / SJ Region and logical sprawl anti-dote considering its commuter rail line and proximity to Center City Philadelphia has bbeen completely overlooked in implementation of the NJ State Smart growth Plan.

THE ARCHITECTURE OF NEW URBAN INFILL: YES! YES!! YES!!! The most mind boggling part of the recently failed Camden Renewal 1.0 was the constant swinging for the homerun fence by renewal officials with new multi-thousand's homes residential projects ( none ever happened) while not developing one single vacant lot or converting a single existing building. Those "singles" add up to lots of RBI's over time. The Camden ERB 1.0 never once hit it's homerun. Camden is the Infil Opportunity of America. Now that Renewal 2.0 is about to get underway with new leadership, the timing could not be better for the advisory and illuminating CNU to be in town.

THE MYTHICAL PARKING SHORTAGE: A pet peeve of mine. Camden's entire downtown is "walkable;" that is, it's two subway stations,are so well placed, there is no place downtown that is more than a 10 minute walk or 2 minute cab ride from them. Camden's high speed rail line connects to Philly's and SJ's best neighborhoods, AMTRAK, every other rail line in the region and Philadelphia International Airport and Atlantic City. There is no reason to drive a car into the city. Yet every new business demands parking space from the city as an incentive to relocate there. Consequently Camden's downtown has more holes than a hunk of swiss cheese in the form of parking lots, which ruins walkabale and architectural cohesion with cold dead space.

TOD IN DISTRESSED CITIES: Camden has two HI-SPEED LINE stops downtown and one on its eastern fringe,( Ferry Ave.) which borders Collingswood, a charming and brilliant New Urbanist renewal success story. The County Government is about to ruin Ferry Ave''s TOD potential by placing new govt. administrative buildings around the stop, which will certainly create dead space after 5:00 PM, holidays and weekends and basically render the area unlivable. The saddest part, it is the area of Camden with the most residential potential, since it is fairly removed from the city's housing blight and social problems. But that is the Camden County government for you. This destruction of a potential and vital residential TOD is for the convenience of a hundred or so county employees.

There is much the Congress has to offer, I do hope the attendees are intrepid and put their talents and vision to the ultimate test in Camden.

Michael McAteer

norabeck's picture

Camden via Camilo Jose Vergara

Photographer Camilo Jose Vergara and Rutgers professor Howard Gillette have put together an interactive website, Invincible Cities, that combines images of Camden neighborhoods over time with their physical location on a map.

The pair's goals for the project are to help visitors "visualize how ghettos change over time, understand the nature and meaning of social and economic inequality in urban America, and connect in an immediate and direct way with these poor segregated urban communities."

Be sure to check out the section titled Camden NJ Database.

Camden, NJ / Invincible Cities

That website is a facsinating and rich resouce.I think there are about 400 time elapsed photographs of properties on the site.
I am familiar with Howard Gilette. He wrote the definitive book on Camden's social, economic and political history:
"Camden After the Fall" by Rutgers Prof. Howard Gillette, published by University of Penn.
Rutgers-Camden should be the flagship of leadership for the city, but lacks resorces and enough caring prof's like Gillette. Rutgers-Camden Prof Jon Van Till is another great font of wisdom regarding Camden. Also, since it is a commuter school, the area around Rutgers is a dead zone after 5, weekends and summers. It is a shame because that neighborhood is within walking distance of Philadelphia's Society Hill, Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and Northern Liberties. (The Ben Franklin Bridge has a sidewalk connecting Camden and Philly. Walkers, joggers and bicyclists use it regularly, but usually U Turn as soon as they get to the Camden side and jog back to Philly.

Camden New Jersey and Cambells' Soup - Development and Design

From the Camden-Courierpost, February 28, 2007

"We're thrilled that Campbell Soup Co. is not only staying in Camden and expanding its world headquarters, but that it's going to enhance its neighborhood and work to bring new taxpaying businesses to the city by building an office park."

"The company has an agreement with the city that includes several stipulations, some negotiable and some that aren't negotiable."

"Campbell wants to replace this useless knot of roads and oddly shaped land parcels with an 11-acre office park that would be home to whatever companies Campbell can lure. With so many firms doing business with Campbell, it's easy to envision the office park enticing those businesses to put small offices in Camden."

Full Story: Camden must ensure Campbell's expansion

MLewyn's picture

To save Camden, save Philadelphia

Camden suffers from one big problem that Newark (a city that in many ways is similar) does not. Newark is near NYC, and thus benefits from NYC's tsunami of gentrification. By contrast, Camden is in a slow-growth, sprawling metro area (Philadelphia).

Why does this matter? Because Camden is competing not just with its NJ suburbs, but with other neighborhoods that can attract people priced out of Center City- Northern Liberties to Center City's north, South Philadelphia to the south, University City to the west. As long as there is a limited supply of would-be gentrifiers, Camden simply can't compete with those neighborhoods; the river makes it a longer commute from Center City. And as long as Philadelphia suffers from sprawl and stagnation, there simply won't be enough would-be gentrifiers to improve all the neighborhoods near center city.

By contrast, NYC benefits from a more prosperous central city, which means more people want to live near Midtown and Wall Street, which means more people priced out of those neighborhoods who are interested in other transit-friendly areas. As a result, gentrification is spilling over into Brooklyn and Hoboken and even Newark.

Camden New Jersey, In the Shadow of Roses

I agree with virtually everything you say. You have encompassed much of why I believe Camden is the toughest challenge New Urbanism will ever face. You could have given many more reasons. Probably the only thing I disagree with is that the Delaware River makes for a longer commute to Philadelphia's most desirable locations. Camden's downtown is aprox 5-8 minutes from Philadelphia's Old City and Northern Liberties sections and Center City by car or train. Add 5-10 more minutes if you are going to walk from the 8th and Market St. station to Old City. I would suggest a 5 minute cab ride to Northern Liberties or Queens Village. (The travel time may shorten with faster trains but it will never be longer than 8-10 minutes from Camden!)

In fact, The Loews Hotel, where XV is taking place, is right on top of the 12th St. PATCO stop, less than ten minutes from the downtown Camden PATCO stop!)

"Camden is competing not just with its NJ suburbs, but with other neighborhoods that can attract people priced out of Center City- Northern Liberties to Center City's north, South Philadelphia to the south, University City to the west. As long as there is a limited supply of would-be gentrifiers, Camden simply can't compete with those neighborhoods;" ( I think what we now call gentrifiers are going to eventually be the normal majority, a population back to its senses thinking economically, tribally,(staying conveniently connected to family and friends for a lifetime) and environmentally. As the smaller population of gentrifers grows into the "normal majority" I think the supply of walkable TOD will shrink porportionately, creating greater demand for previously overlooked areas.

Another thing; there are many people in NJ who would love to live in a walkable TOD community but would never want to live in Philadelphia or anywhere but New Jersey. South Jersey's NU+TOD supply and potential is limited. Camden is the logical place to fill the gap for those who want to stay in South Jersey but be near big city life and good transportation.

All things being equal, I would agree with you. But as people are being priced out of Center-City etc. how far away from those areas do you really want to move? And with Camden real estate 1/4 - 1/5th the price of Philadelphia that surely would come into play in some minds. ( Also there is no city wage tax, which is a irritatingly large chunk out of everyone's paycheck who works or lives in Philly. Also, new property owners in Camden PAY NO PROPERTY TAXES FOR FIVE YEARS!!! Also, Camden is both in an Enterprise Zone, Empowerment Zone and has other special incentives created only for Camden. Taking into account the initial very low cost of real estate to begin with, then discounted down further with a multitude of giveaways, all this 5 minutes from downtown Philadelphia, Philly or any SJ suburb cannot compete on a purely economic basis.

With brainstorming and other "out-of-the box" thinking Camden can create more competitive advantages. Those optional places you mention "just exist." In that I mean they are just further out and lesser extensions of where people would prefer to be, politically and institutionally interconnected. With the new legislation, Camden is starting from zero basically. It can reinvent itself. (Remember, Camden is the only city in NJ without a government. Although the first round of this legislation flopped badly due to leaving embedded the people who screwed the city up in the first place, major changes and safeguards have been put in place. Right now the city is in an interim phase politically. In two-three months Governor Corzine (Ex-Goldman Sachs CEO, no stranger to opportunity) will announce a new COO and Board to run the city.

However, at this point, from a quality of life standpoint, Camden cannot compete with any other location in the Delaware Valley. ( Or country for that matter.)But I believe with the right plan, effort and committment anything can be improved significantly.

At this point I believe only downtown Camden, Ferry Ave. Station, and a sliver of South Camden can be made attractive reflections of New Urbanism within 5 years. But this is a pretty good sized area, especially if maximized with proper high-density buildout. These areas could create a gravity that good things attach to.

The city's problems are massive; until the problems that NU cannot effect are resolved, there is still room for NU to evolve.

We are speaking of a movement here (NU!) And "movement" is just another way of saying "transformation." And Transformation for the better is what we are all about! I agree with your premise. I would just like you to know that there is a cornucopia of incentives that may be enough to offset Camden's negatives for many potential business owners and residents. I do think they will have to be the daring pioneer types. But you know what they say- "Fortune Favors the Bold!"

To digress from NU for a bit, and give you an example of the type of "out-of-the-box" thinking I mean for a competitive Camden (and other distressed cities) you can read a proposal I put up on my website on an idea to attract a population to Camden. The proposal led to an invitation to a conference at Princeton University where I got to discuss it with national academic and political leaders. You can read it below or view it on Princetons Webcast.

Webcast: Movement of Global Talent: The Impact of High Skill Labor Flows from India and China
December 7-8, 2006
Scroll down to:
Day Two: Economic Impacts on the Region, Click on Webcast, move slider to 1hr and 25 minutes position and then I get my 2 cents in shortly afterward. (You can't see me, only hear me make a statement and ask a question, squeezing in a NU reference at the end.)

Michael McAteer


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