I forget exactly how, but a few months ago I heard about a Rutgers-Camden professor teaching a course involving urbanist issues and using the city as a subject in his classes. He was looking for “local knowledge”, what the people on the ground know that others might not. I don’t live in Camden, but I wanted to contribute my view of the city from the suburbs, where basically nobody thinks of Camden other than a place where crime happens. I sent Mr. Danley an essay, and he liked it enough to publish on his blog. Here’s a preview of it and a link to the entire post on his site.
I grew up in a part of South Jersey where you could barely get anywhere without a car. There’s a bus that takes you to a train station, but my parents never talked about anything like that. When I got my license at 17, it was probably something akin to the promise of personal freedom that my parents’ generation bestowed on having your own car. The freedom to get out, to explore wherever you wanted, go wherever you pleased. And for a good number of years, that was my reality. I drove to college, I drove to other cities and states; I got out. It was only when I got my first job that the realities of a car-dependent life hit me. Suddenly spending hours of my life every week in my car wasn’t a liberation, but a chore. I was losing my life to being stuck in a metal box just to get to work and back.
Fast forwarding ten years, I find myself in a much different place. I still have a car, but I take the train to work in the morning. In what’s become somewhat of a demographic cliche, I’ve ditched the ultra-car-dependent lifestyle, moved to an old suburb with a downtown rich in shops and restaurants, and dove headlong into appreciating the history and ever-changing social fabric of my region. During my college years, I started to take the train into Center City and fell almost immediately in love with it. I started to read everything I could about the dynamics of the city, about the play of old and new, about the competing dreams for what could be. And though I am still deeply in love with Philadelphia and its past and future, it is at this point in my life as an enthusiast of the urbane that I’ve started to turn my gaze towards that other city at the heart of our region: the City of Camden, the city invincible.
You can read the entire post on Stephen Danley’s blog at http://danley.rutgers.edu/2013/12/18/community-voice-a-view-from-the-suburbs/.