If you only travel around South Jersey by highway, you might miss it. If you only shop at big box stores on Routes 70 or 38, you probably won’t catch it. But something kind of amazing is happening in South Jersey. Its historic downtowns, long neglected in favor of highway strip malls, are making a comeback. The implications for the state, which has had a harder time than usual lately trying to pay for its expansive suburban sprawl, are huge. We might be seeing the beginnings of a nascent movement to rebuild our historic towns, which can only lead to economic sustainability for years to come.
Over the past few months, the weekly trickle of development-related articles on the websites of the Courier Post and the Philadelphia Inquirer have become a nearly-daily bombardment of articles about towns all around the Camden, Gloucester, and Burlington County region. Some towns are adapting old building for new apartments. Some are bringing new energy to their riverfront areas. Others are working with institutions to invest in their towns. There are many different ways to go about it, but one thing is clear: town and borough leaders throughout the region are committed to bringing life and commerce back to their towns in a big way.
Downtown Mount Holly is looking to capitalize on recent popular additions to become a regional shopping destination.
Several things are developing in Burlington City, whose downtown is seeing new restaurants, shops, and cultural centers come in and whose riverfront is seeing an upgrade including new market rate housing.
And Glassborbo has even wondered if it could be the next Collingswood.
These towns would join others who began their revitalization in the last decade such as Collingswood and Haddon Township, both of which have vibrant downtowns and which are anchored by the PATCO Speed Line into Center City Philadelphia. At a time when the state is anxious about losing both retirees flocking to lower-cost states and millennials moving to cities, this could represent a great renaissance for our historic towns and their ability to once again become thriving centers of commerce and culture of in South Jersey.