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We’re a NJ News Commons partner!

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I’m happy to announce that South Jersyist has recently become a content partner with NJ News Commons, and organization at at Montclair State University whose mission is to “strengthen the voice of New Jersey by helping news organizations work cooperatively.” This is exciting news for a young blog, and I’m honored to have been considered for inclusion in this important New Jersey organization.

In practical terms, the News Commons is a group that gathers and highlights New Jersey news from outlets based all around the state. Having grown up in the state, I had gotten used to all of our news coming from either Philadelphia or New York-based outlets that dedicate a minimum of time to non-political news in our state. The goal of the News Commons is to change this, and to bring the views and opinions of real New Jerseyans to readers throughout the rest of the state and regions we’re part of. So please, check out their site and read about all of the other great partners they work with.

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The Shore, Transit

Taking the train down the shore

I did something last weekend that few people I’ve talked to apparently know you can do. I had known for a while that it was possible, but I’d just never gotten around to it. It’s something a little bit unintuitive, but in the end, pretty rewarding.

I took a train down the shore. Tucked behind the ShopRite on Route 70 in Cherry Hill, there’s an NJ Transit stop for their Atlantic City rail line that runs between Philly and the shore town. There are nine stops in all: the line begins at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station and hits Pennsauken (which features a link to NJ Transit’s Riverline between Camden and Trenton), Cherry Hill, Lindenwold (which has a transfer to PATCO), Atco, Hammonton, Egg Harbor City, Absecon, and finally Atlantic City. The trip took about an hour from Cherry Hill, which is comparable to driving, or shorter if there’s bad traffic on the roads.

The train platforms at the Atlantic City Rail Terminal.

The train platforms at the Atlantic City Rail Terminal.

Now, it’s not for everyone. It only goes to Atlantic City; shore staples like Ocean City or Wildwood remain at the mercy of Expressway and Parkway traffic. But being able to get to the shore on a train was liberating. There was no hunting for expensive parking in a casino lot or garage, no fighting everyone else on the road who had the idea to go down the shore on a nice day. We got off the train right in the thick of the city’s attractions. Once you leave the station, you’re presented with The Walk, an outdoor mall of over 100 regular and outdoor shops and restaurants. You’re just a few blocks from Ducktown, home of the famous White House Sub Shop, which gets its bread from the also-famous Formica Brothers bakery located across the street. If you’re down there to gamble, a decent selection of casinos are close by. The boardwalk is just past that, with its usual New Jersey shore town boardwalk things. There’s also the Pier Shops at Caesar’s, a three story mall on a pier with a restaurant level that includes Steven Starr’s Buddakan and The Continental, where we had dinner. A few blocks south is boardwalk hall, which has concerts and the occasional hockey game or circus. And of course, there’s the vast beach, complete with lounges and bars.

Honestly, Atlantic City is a great day trip destination even if you don’t like gambling. And as NJ Spotlight reported last week, Atlantic City is in fact looking to expand its DO AC campaign to include promoting as many non-gambling attractions as possible, and with good reason. Since several of the states that surround New Jersey have legalized gambling, the city can no longer rely on its exclusivity for a constantly high revenue stream. And now that New Jersey itself has legalized online gambling, it’s about time the city started focusing on other ways to support the massive tourism industry the city was founded on. If you decide to go down this summer, I know a great way to get there.

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Media

South Jersey loses its NBC affiliate

WMGM-logoThis morning the Press of Atlantic City reported that WMGM-TV40, otherwise known as NBC40, will soon be losing its affiliation with the national broadcaster. Based in Linwood, the channel has been an NBC affiliate for decades, but the corporation’s desire to consolidate channels in its operating markets is forcing the channel, which serves Atlantic, Cape May, and Cumberland counties, to rethink its future.

Though this news most directly affects those in the viewing area, the implications of South Jersey losing its only locally-based TV news organization (NBC40 News airs twice nightly) are important. Most of (and after this, all of) South Jersey, much like North Jersey, receives its national affiliate channels through the larger metropolitan market it is located in. Our ABC, CBS, and NBC channels come from Philadelphia like North Jersey’s come from New York. But unlike North Jersey’s News 12, South Jersey has no TV channel dedicated to highlighting news and events in its communities. Coverage of our towns comes at the whim of media outlets based in Philadelphia and Bala Cynwyd.

While this is fairly normal for a multi-state region like ours, what it means in real terms is that the things that happen to over 2 million people in seven counties receives a minimum of coverage. There are only so many minutes in a newscast, and the Pennsylvania side of the Philadelphia metropolitan region is larger than the New Jersey side, meaning that side gets the concentration of the coverage.

What I would like to see is WMGM to amplify its signal and become South Jersey’s news channel, received in all 7 counties. This would preserve coverage of our communities and help maintain and bolster our sense of community and identity, which is sometimes trivialized by both North Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania. We have stories to tell, and losing our only dedicates news outlet, even with its current minimal reach, is a shame for the region.

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Camden

A recap of the Camden Night Gardens

I was looking forward to the Camden Night Gardens all this week. I couldn’t wait to get on the waterfront and see just what it looks like when we make an effort to reclaim an urban space and do something fun with it. I was watching the clock in work, waiting to get out of there so I could get on a train to cross the river. Then a few hours before the event, I got worried. What if no one showed up? What if getting out to Camden was just too crazy for people? What if it wasn’t warm enough and people stayed home?

Thankfully none of that was the case. Last night was awesome.

There was so much to see. Going through the effective festival entrance at Delaware and Elm, there were immediately tents, tables, and food trucks. There was a pop-up bike share from the Camden County bike share program letting people take bikes around the area and going on rides on the Ben Franklin Bridge’s walkway, usually closed at 8 or 9 but left open until midnight for the night. There was an art student from Rutgers-Camden putting on a piece about how waste is energy, with a trashcan whose food waste powered a light coming out of it. There were lots of tables for local businesses like Camden Printworks, whose “I (bicycle) Camden” shirt I was finally able to buy. There were even a few national outfits like Uber, who was there signing people up for their Philadelphia service (I should have asked if you could get a ride to or from Camden from Philly, though its UberX service possibly starting up in South Jersey might mitigate that need).

Beyond that, there was a stage set up up against the water tower, which was lit up beautifully by the Brooklyn arts collective that runs Nuit Blanche festivals up there. There were half a dozen acts, including the impressive to see in person Sophisticated Sisters drill team, The UCC Royal Brass Band of Camden, and Camden native hip hop artist Yung Poppa. The dramatic lighting that projected the artists on stage onto the side of the water tower must’ve been visible from the train and maybe even Penn’s Landing across the river.

There was even more to see past that. A BMX group from New York set up a course on a sliver of land between the old guard road of the prison and the water, again amazingly lit up for the nighttime. There was a huge peace sign for people to write their names and messages of love and support on. There were graffiti artists painting and wheat pasting on huge letters spelling out CAMDEN. And at the very end of the walk, there was a tent playing an old RCA Victrola, the thing that put Camden on the map all those years ago.

Overall, the night was a success. It was a little colder than I thought it would be (it might be better to do this in late May or early June next time), but people still came out and there was a ton to see and do. I can only imagine the turnout with even more promotion and coverage (and warmer temperatures). You’re just not going to get a festival like this in any other town in South Jersey. Camden’s dramatic vistas of the Delaware River, the bridge, and Philadelphia coupled with the imaginative and creative efforts of those who want to bring people together to celebrate the good things in the city resulted in a unique festival I was proud to attend. I can’t wait for the next one.

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Transit

PATCO is getting upgrades and John Dougherty wants to ruin it all

Things in the South Jersey public transportation scene are a bit strange this morning. Paul Nussbaum writes in an article for the Philadelphia Inquirer today that the Delaware River Port Authority board approved $7.5 million worth of improvements and fixes for its PATCO train line into Philadelphia that includes upgrading electronic signs in stations that haven’t displayed relevant train information in years, replacing old security cameras that may not have been working this whole time (yikes), and creating a five year contract for SEPTA crews to fix and maintain PATCO’s regularly broken escalators.

Overall, good news. These are solid upgrades that improve customer satisfaction and safety. Unfortunately, the article ends on a frustrating note. Nussbaum writes that newly reappointed board member and infamous Philadelphia electrician’s union boss John Dougherty, last on the board in 2011, started his new role by asking for the results of studies he wanted done in 2010 regarding the feasibility of selling PATCO to a private company and investigating how many Pennsylvanians work for the authority.

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Union boss John Dougherty, champion of privatization?

Let’s put this into perspective. John Dougherty, a Democrat and union boss from Pennsylvania, is still harping on selling one of South Jersey’s greatest public assets, willing to put our only direct link to the heart of the region into the hands of a for-profit corporation, while John Hanson, a Republican from New Jersey and the new head of the port authority, focuses on customer satisfaction and upgrading the train line to better serve its riders. This is confusing, and somewhat infuriating.

I happen to firmly believe that privatization is not the right course for certain things in our country, and that for-profit motives sometimes do not line up with serving the general public good. Public transportation is one of those areas, so it’s maddening to see Dougherty bring this up years after this idea met with wide disapproval, even within the DRPA board itself. Putting a guy who obviously has no interest in serving public transit users on a board of an organization that has a long history of running public transit is a curious, frustrating move that honestly only looks political from where I’m sitting. Instead of filling the board with custodians of our shared transportation assets, friends of politicians once again get put into power positions when they have no qualifications of expertise in the area.

As Next City has written about the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey, port authorities have the tendency to be a den of scandal, impropriety, and nepotism. DRPA has had it share of scandals over the years, most notably one involving toll and fare payer money being given to political connected organizations in the form of “economic development” (moves that the federal government is currently investigating). This move by John Dougherty shows that shenanigans that have nothing to do with improving regional transportation are hardly over.

 

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Camden

Why you should attend the Camden Night Gardens

Camden Night Gardens

This Thursday, the large, vacant space on Camden’s waterfront left behind by the demolition of Riverfront State Prison in 2009 will be transformed. The Brooklyn art collective Nuit Blanche, in association with the Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, is putting on a party. The event is meant to coincide with this month’s Third Thursday arts crawl, a monthly event started three years ago by the owners of Gallery Eleven One, an art exhibition space built inside of a 1906 firehouse located in the Cooper Grant neighborhood. There will be light shows on the water tower, performances from local hip hop artists, brass bands, and the city’s famed Sophisticated Sisters and Distinguished Gentlemen, food from local restaurants, and BMX bikers showing off tricks. For a fenced off plot of land that isn’t doing much for the city, this is a decent change of peace.

“But,” I can hear people ask, “why would I go to Camden? And at night, are you crazy? Isn’t that place dangerous? All I ever hear about Camden is crime and corruption.”

That’s sort of the point. The Night Gardens event is more than just a party; it’s the city’s chance to harness the sheer willpower of individuals who want to make a place better, if only for a night, to show that when people get tother for something positive, something great can happen.

What it comes down to for me is the old cliche of strength in numbers. Think about the parts of urban life that people consider sketchy. Dark streets at night with no one around. Dingy, empty subway stations in the off hours. Empty plots of land where building should be. Now think about how those turn into completely different places when people show up. Night markets have been transforming city streets at night in Philadelphia over the past few years with huge turnouts. Subway stations burst to life when a throng of people use SEPTA to get to a sporting event at the stadiums. And the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society turned an empty lot on Broad Street into an amazingly successful beer garden last summer.

What this phenomenon speaks to is the fact that the urban fabric is not itself at fault, but rather, what makes all the difference is how we use its physical spaces. We’re the ones who decide if we’re going to let spaces stay unused, leaving them to feel unsafe, or whether we’re going to use them to bring people together for something great. We’re the ones who bring life to a neighborhood. The power is ours. All it takes is showing up.

So do yourself a favor and change your ideas of what Camden has to offer. Come see its culture, see its proud youths, listen to its music, and eat its food. Come do something unexpected and potentially amazing.

You can check out the event’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Camden-Night-Gardens/455296604597443.

The Inquirer wrote an article about it here, and the Courier Post wrote one here.

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Sustainability

Green Festivals in South Jersey

Earth Day is coming up in a few weeks, and towns around South Jersey are preparing festivals for showing off the benefits of green technologies and encouraging people to adopt more environmentally-conscious habits. They’re generally huge events where you can learn about things from composting and recycling to biking and gardening. Some of them even have recycling for things like old appliances and other stuff not easily gotten rid of.

Here’re a few events going on over the next few weekends.

 

Saturday, April 12th

Collingswood’s Green Festival, 9am – 2pm

 

April 21st – 27th

Camden’s Earth Week 2014, with an entire 7 day program of ways to learn about and help the environment

 

Saturday, April 26th

Haddon Township’s 6th Annual Go Green Event, 10am – 2pm

Washington Township’s Earth Day 2014, 10am – 3pm

Cherry Hill’s 5th Annual Cherry Hill Art Blooms Earth Festival, 10am – 2pm

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