Something I’ve been struck by as I’ve explored cities and urban neighborhoods across the country and here in South Jersey is how much work went into “otherizing” cities and urban communities in the 20th century. The cliché in the suburbs when I was growing up was that cities were dangerous places full of dangerous minorities and that venturing into them was to risk personal harm or death. Surprisingly, this view often came from the lips of people who moved out of them decades previous, a move which itself set off the chain reaction of decline we know so well today. And unfortunately, this is still sometimes the mindset of older Americans despite a solid few decades of urban growth. But visiting even the most struggling communities left behind by generations of people can show you that people are still people, no matter what environment they live in, despite ugly, racist stereotypes about what kind of person lives in these places.
Yesterday, New Jersey said goodbye to outgoing, controversial-to-say-the-least governor Chris Christie and hello to the new guy in Trenton, incoming governor Phil Murphy. At almost exactly noon, Murphy was sworn in with Sheila Oliver as his lieutenant governor, the first woman of color to serve in a statewide elected office – a welcome and overdue achievement. A few political commentators noted the day seemed more about saying goodbye to Christie than hello to Murphy, but while I do think there are plenty of reason to be happy Christie’s gone, there are a few things to like about the incoming Murphy administration. Here’s what I’m looking forward to.
Four years ago this month, I sent an email to an acquaintance of mine at Rutgers–Camden bemoaning the Latin American Economic Development Association’s Dine Around which takes people from downtown offices and education institutions to lunch spots in the city’s neighborhoods. To be clear, I thought it was a fantastic idea. My problem was that it was only available during lunch, and working in Center City, it was impossible for me to participate. As someone who wanted to explore more of Camden, that bummed me out. Thankfully, my friend had a simple suggestion: let’s get some people together for dinner instead. And later that month, in January 2014, with eight people around a table at Corinne’s Place in the Parkside neighborhood, the Camden Supper Club was born. As we start our fourth year of bringing people to dinner at restaurants all over the city, I sit here amazed that it’s become more popular than I could have ever imagined.
Somewhere between South Jersey’s suburban towns and its popular seaside resorts lay a network of train tracks draped through the forests of the state’s seven southernmost counties. From 1933 until 1976, they bustled with passengers escaping to beach towns up and down the state’s coastline from crowded and sweltering neighborhoods in Philadelphia and Camden. The growth of private car travel and the opening of the Atlantic City Expressway in the mid-1960s reduced rail offerings to the shore down to just the Atlantic City Line, which still operates today. But at least a few times a year, you can take a ride on some of the historic tracks that ignited the Philadelphia region’s love affair with New Jersey’s southern beaches.