Built Environment, Demographics, Development

How to begin addressing New Jersey’s “millennial problem”

Over the past few days, two articles have come out that speak to a few weaknesses New Jersey is suffering from at the moment. The first is a Wall Street Journal piece about how the state has a “millennial problem”, detailing how younger people don’t want to live, work, or play in the state’s sprawling suburbia, nor could they afford it if they wanted to. The second rightly suggests that our overbuilding of suburban office parks in the 20th century has put has at a disadvantage as younger people today look for work in dynamic urban environments and not the pastoral campuses of the generation before us. Both articles get at something I think about a lot, especially as a millennial that does live in this state. I was inspired to put together some ideas that elected officials and civic leaders would be wise to consider if they want to address the fundamental problems our state has going into the 21st century.

Though New Jersey overplayed its hand in building a sprawling suburban landscape in last decade, there are some remedies that would help to keep it relevant in this one. The first thing it must do is properly invest in its public transportation network. New Jersey’s links to jobs in the very hot New York City and Philadelphia job markets has always been a strength, and with more jobs moving back into central cities, these links must be made even stronger. NJ Transit has been starved of consistent funding for too long, and it shows through increased delays and frequent equipment failures. It needs a reliable and dedicated funding source so it can perform backlogged maintenance and network expansion. In my area of South Jersey, that means bringing the Glassboro-Camden light rail line, which will connect Gloucester County to Camden and Philadelphia, to life, and making the Atlantic City Rail Line more frequent and Philadelphia-focused, with possible new stops along the way.

Simply put, millennials aren’t going to flock to cul-de-sac neighborhoods where everything they want to do outside their homes requires a trip by car on a congested highway. People in my generation are basing our lives around proximity to our jobs and what amenities our communities can provide. In that vein, New Jersey land use policy needs to shift toward supporting zoning that allows denser mixed-use projects to be more easily built. In most post-war suburban towns, there is a strong separation of residential, commercial, and business uses, which mandates that residents need a car to get anywhere. More mixed-use projects, perhaps with retail on the ground floor and housing and/or office space on top, would mean more vibrancy through a diversity of uses and end the requirement that cars are an absolute necessity to live in the state. Given that we’re a generation more averse than any other to the expensive cost of owning a car, anything that can be done to reduce the need for one is going to be a win for the state. And if these mixed-use projects can be built near rail stations into New York or Philadelphia, we’ll start to see how truly synergistic our relationship with those two cities can be.

Finally, lawmakers would do well to increase investment in New Jersey’s own cities like Newark, Jersey City, Camden, or Trenton. The appreciation for a dynamic urban environment isn’t limited to external cities alone. Newark and Jersey City have come alive thanks to recent interest, and cities like Camden and Trenton could see the same if properly invested in. Indeed, EDA tax incentives are bringing hundreds of jobs back to Camden, a city that suffered historic disinvestment in the 20th century. If Camden, Trenton, Passaic, or Elizabeth are nurtured and successfully attract jobs like they once had, every community around them, and especially those suburbs on rail lines connected to them, will greatly benefit.

Just because the craze of suburbanization is nearing an end in the Northeast doesn’t mean that New Jersey has to suffer. With a little imagination and foresight, we can envision a state that successfully adapts to the changing tastes of the 21st century.

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Camden, Transit

Ghosts of City Hall: The PATCO station you’ve never seen

If you’ve ever used PATCO’s City Hall station in downtown Camden, you might think it’s pretty simple. A red stairwell on the southwest corner of 5th & Market takes you down to a small concourse with fare machines, turnstiles, and a platform. If you’ve looked a little closer, you might’ve noticed a few interesting things, like the big steel doors that block off a passageway marked with a “TO COOPER ST” sign, or a gate that stops you from going anywhere but immediately through the turnstiles. Even if you could imagine that through those doorways lies a few extra parts of the station closed off over the past few decades, you might not have ever realized just how large a station City Hall really is.

Map of downtown Camden and the City Hall station.

Map of downtown Camden and the City Hall station, including my estimate for the reaches of the closed off pedestrian tunnels.

Before this morning, I definitely hadn’t. But thanks to a generous offer from PATCO General Manager John Rink to take a few curious PATCO fans on a tour of these closed off parts of the station, I finally got a chance to see how extensive these unseen parts really are. What follows is a tour starting from the current station open to the public and leading to both the northern and southern reaches of its underground pedestrian tunnels.

Closed off walkway to Cooper Street as seen from the stairs leading from the platforms.

Closed off walkway to Cooper Street as seen from the stairs leading from the platforms.

Stairway leading from the platform to the closed off north side of the station.

Stairway leading from the platform to the closed off north side of the station.

Do you have your ticket?

Do you have your ticket?

north side - stairs

Original stairway detail.

Extra paneling for PATCO stations.

Extra paneling for PATCO stations.

This is the northern station entrance area where the turnstiles used to be. You can see the now-closed off stairway on the northeastern corner of 5th & Market Streets In the background.

This is the northern station entrance area where the turnstiles used to be. You can see the now-closed off stairway on the northeastern corner of 5th & Market Streets In the background.

Old instructions for how to ride PATCO.

Old instructions for how to ride PATCO.

Looking back toward the open end of the station. This is what's behind the big gray door your saw in the first photo.

Looking back toward the open end of the station. This is what’s behind the big gray door your saw in the first photo.

Steps leading to the currently-closed off stairs on the northeastern corner of 5th & Market Streets.

Steps leading to the currently-closed off stairs on the northeastern corner of 5th & Market Streets.

Old storage room door.

Old storage room door.

Old empty storage room.

Old empty storage room.

Walkway back to the open end of the station.

Walkway back to the open end of the station.

The stations' beautiful old tiling remains impressively intact.

The station’s beautiful old tiling remains impressively intact.

These are the old trash cans that used to be on the platforms before the Department of Homeland Security required DRPA to install clear plastic trash cans.

These are the old trash cans that used to be on the platforms before the Department of Homeland Security required DRPA to install clear plastic trash cans.

Another view of the closed off entrance and turnstile area.

Another view of the closed off entrance and turnstile area.

Extra station signage.

Extra station signage.

Just a storage room full of old meters from station parking lots.

Storage room full of old meters from station parking lots.

Looking back after continuing north toward Cooper Street.

Looking back after continuing north toward Cooper Street.

Like a few other stations, City Hall had a public bathroom.

Like a few other stations, City Hall had a public bathroom.

Signage to Cooper Street.

Signage to Cooper Street.

Long pedestrian tunnel to Cooper Street.

Pedestrian tunnel to Cooper Street.

It's a pretty long tunnel.

It’s a pretty long tunnel.

Caution-taped transformer room door.

Caution-taped transformer room door.

Still heading north to Cooper Street.

Still heading north to Cooper Street.

Just like at other PATCO stations, the end of the pedestrian concourse area gives you a choice of corners to exit from.

Just like at other PATCO stations, the end of the pedestrian concourse area gives you a choice of corners to exit from.

Stairway to one of the exits.

Stairway to one of the exits.

Closed off.

Closed off.

Crossing under Cooper Street to get to the other corner's exit.

Crossing under Cooper Street to get to the other corner’s exit.

Old gate and stairwell.

Old gate and stairwell.

Also closed off.

Also closed off.

Heading back south down the pedestrian tunnel from Cooper Street.

Heading back south down the pedestrian tunnel from Cooper Street.

Dust graffiti on the tiles.

Dust graffiti on the tiles.

Heading back to the open part of the station.

Heading back to the open part of the station.

This is the gate you see just before going through the present day turnstiles.

This is the gate you see just before going through the present day turnstiles. Going through it takes you south toward Arch Street.

Among other things, this area holds some storage.

Among other things, this area holds some storage.

Signage toward Market Street and Arch Street.

Signage toward Market Street and Arch Street.

More old doors.

More old doors.

This short tunnel leads to a stairway that took people across the street to the old Parkade building.

This short tunnel leads to a stairway that took people across the street to the old Parkade building, where Roosevelt Plaza Park currently sits.

This stairwell is the only remaining part of the Parkade building.

This stairwell is the only remaining part of the Parkade building.

Heading back down the tunnel.

Heading back down the tunnel.

Where the tunnel meets back up with the station.

Where the tunnel meets back up with the station.

Arch Street tiling continuing south and some old parking lot gates.

Arch Street tiling continuing south and some old parking lot gates.

Stairwell down to the tunnel to Arch Street.

Stairwell down to the tunnel to Arch Street.

Tunnel continuing south to Arch Street.

Tunnel continuing south to Arch Street.

Closed off exit.

Closed off exit.

 

Update: General Manager John Rink just sent me this original, February 1934 plan for City Hall station, which shows the sidewalk plan where the exits where to be located as well as the layout of the station itself.

Original, 1934 City Hall station plan.

Original, 1934 City Hall station plan. (Click to view larger.)

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