Camden, Development

Despite the promise of job training, hurdles remain high for some Camden residents

Over the past few years, many critiques have been written about the effort to lure employers to the beleaguered city of Camden by way of millions of dollars in corporate tax breaks. Some articles have brought up the fact that some of that money is going to politically-connected entities such as Holtec, on whose board “powerful Democratic Party ‘boss'” George Norcross sits. Others have expressed worry at the high per-job cost to the state baked into these incentives. But possibly the most important thing to talk about is whether or not these companies will make a positive difference in the lives of Camden residents whose possible improved fortunes are often touted as reasons these tax breaks are worthwhile in the first place.

Some groups such as Camden Churches Organized for People are unconvinced. CCOP Vice Chair Ray Lamboy voiced concern last year that these companies coming into the city would hire many local residents. Others like New Jersey Policy Perspective Vice President Jon Whiten are concerned that the jobs created in Camden will be “fly-in, fly-out-type jobs” taken by suburbanites who drive their cars to isolated office parks and drive home in the evening, doing little good in the way of economic stimulus to their host city, such as in the case of the new Subaru headquarters located far from any city neighborhood with amenities employees can support.

In an effort to allay fears of city residents missing out, officials from the city of Camden and the Cooper Foundation announced in early September a job training initiative that “aims to train 100 city residents by the close of 2017.” Sessions aimed at residents interested in the program were rolled out later that month. But after attending one of those sessions attended by about 100 people, city resident Keith Benson was dismayed at what he learned. “Based on the mailer that went out, it seemed like a program that would get the community working immediately. As in after filling out some forms, ‘here’s a shovel’. But what it turned into was an infocrmational about maybe being 1 of the 10 accepted into a 10 week training course cycle to maybe get to work on a site in Camden.” In addition to so few people being enrolled in the program at a time, Benson learned that students would not be compensated during their training. In a city where many budgets run tight, this may seem like an unreasonable burden when the possibility of a job at the end is uncertain.

  • talk about this being about trained to enter a union, not “get a job”
  • talk about the problem with minority representation in unions: http://axisphilly.org/article/despite-pledges-to-change-phillys-building-trades-still-dominated-by-white-males/

“They said a car was mandatory because thought the first jobs will be in Camden, after the job is over, union members are likely to be sent all over to work and must be able to get to THOSE jobs. So that why “you must have a car that is registered to you and insured now.””

 

In a city in which 36% of households have no access to a car, this is another high barrier to employment. And since the jobs are in a city with public transportation, why should that disqualify you?

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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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Camden, Development

Why New Jersey taxpayers’ $118 million giveaway to Subaru won’t revitalize Camden (and how they’re creating a problem that will take decades to fix)

It’s often said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but you rarely get to see it play out so perfectly in front of your eyes as it does here in New Jersey. In the summer of 2013, state legislators were busy revamping the state’s system of tax breaks that works to keep businesses in the state when they start to make noise about moving to take advantage of tax incentives from other states. In the race to the bottom in which American taxpayers bankroll corporate operations with little to no net benefit, New Jersey is clearly a frontrunner.

The state has given hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to projects ranging from an “entertainment complex” in the Meadowlands to multiple corporations moving their headquarters just a few miles down the road. But after years of the majority of tax breaks going to North Jersey interests, State Senate president Steven Sweeney (who represents parts of Gloucester, Cumberland, and Salem Counties) pushed back to get the reworking of the tax break system, the Economic Opportunity Act of 2013, to focus more on South Jersey. As an NJ.com article from the time reports:

“A bill to overhaul how the state lures businesses has been loaded with last-minute sweeteners for South Jersey and pushed by Senate President Stephen Sweeney. The New Jersey Economic Opportunity Act, a mammoth bill supported by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, now sets aside deals for the state’s eight southern counties, especially Camden.”

Ever since then, Camden has received the bulk of the state’s tax breaks. Far from promising to revitalize the city, they’ve gone to a few politically connected entities. But there was one project that was supposed to be a game changer for the city. Subaru of America, currently located on Route 70 in Cherry Hill, was granted a $118 million tax incentive to move a few miles west to the Gateway district of Camden, where Campbell’s Soup has a vision to create South Jersey’s version of Philadelphia’s successful Navy Yard. That Subaru would take the incentives and move to Gateway was seen as potential progress toward the goal of actually realizing the revitalization of that part of the city.

Sadly, it appears as though we were all taken for fools. As news of the plans for their headquarters came out last week, it came to light that this would be no game-changing, world-class headquarters. The plans call for a building shorter than the current headquarters in Cherry Hill. Brandywine Realty Trust, which has developed some wonderful buildings in Philadelphia, wants to build a squat suburban headquarters located in a sea of over 1,000 parking spaces. Inga Saffron has written a spot-on evaluation of the failure of this plan in today’s Inquirer.

The suburban style campus surrounded by parking that Subaru wants to bring to Camden.

The suburban style campus surrounded by parking that Subaru wants to bring to Camden.

From the perspective of those who thought, maybe, these tax breaks might actually lead to positive change in the city, as everyone working toward them has claimed, disappointment is the kindest word for what we are feeling. Devastation, bewilderment, and disgust are far more apt. This project could not be more disengaged from the city. Those parking spots guarantee that every single Subaru employee will drive in to work in the morning, stay on campus to eat lunch, and drive home at night. They will not interact with the city. Even if they wanted to, they are hardly given the chance. Employees would have to traverse a punishing sea of asphalt to get out of the suburban-style office park.

And the site’s lack of engagement isn’t the only issue. This asphalt will complicate the poor drainage that this part of Camden experiences. Even today, Admiral Wilson Boulevard constantly floods. Subaru has decided to not even incorporate rain gardens to address runoff that they saw fit to construct in their Cherry Hill and Pennsauken campuses. There are a few trees dotted throughout their parking lot which they claim add green space. It is a transparent attempt to pull one over on all of us.

When Campbell’s broadcast to the world that they were committed to building a forward-looking office complex in the Gateway district, they created glossy renderings of a successful future. Looking at Subaru’s plans for this site, it’s impossible to not conclude that that was a only marketing ploy for future tax breaks, and that no such office complex will arise. New Jersey taxpayers have once again been duped by greedy corporations and small-minded politicians who live in an alternate universe where tax breaks, trickle-down economics, and forcing suburbanization onto a city really works.

This is what Campbell's wants us to think Gateway will become. This will not happen with the current development mentality.

This is what Campbell’s wants us to think Gateway will become. This will not happen with the current development mentality.

This plan, should it get built, will set the city back decades. Successful cities and towns all around the country are working to undo the harm caused by sprawling development. Here in New Jersey, office parks like this are going empty as people seek dynamic, urban environments to work in. What Subaru is doing here is guaranteeing that South Jersey will pay for the privilege of living in an increasingly obsolete development model, truly a dying past, for decades to come.

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Camden

Media Coverage of Crime in Camden

Covering the incidents of crime and violence in Camden is basically a cottage industry. Local newspapers salivate over it. Good things that happen in the city might be glossed over, but there will always be coverage of the bad things that go on in the city, as if suburbanites can’t help but follow the carnage. Reading yet another article about a shooting the other day, I got really bothered by the lack of context and analyses of the root causes of that crime. The basics are mundane enough; most of the killings are drug related. That’s just Camden, right? Drugs, poverty, misery. Except drugs don’t exist in a vacuum. And there’s been increasing coverage of the fact that that drug trade is majorly supported by people coming in from outside the city, namely, White suburban kids no one apparently thinks are capable of doing something bad. Overall, it’s just part of a larger picture that I feel rarely got covered, so I wrote a guest post for Stephen Danley’s Local Knowledge blog about it. Here’s a preview and a link to the full essay.


One thing that becomes almost immediately evident when you pay attention to Camden is newspapers’ and news anchors’ obsession with crimes and crime statistics. At first glance, it seems like it makes sense. It’s a beleaguered city that suffers an exceptional amount of crime. A new police force is out to prove itself. A governor who wants to regionalize other police forces in the state needs it to succeed to push his agenda forward. And unfortunately, shocking crime sells air time and ad space.

But to focus on crime as the sole aspect of the city is to only follow half the story. Policing only attempts to address the symptom, not to fix the root cause of the problem. After all, it is no more Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson’s job to make sure Camden thrives in the 21st century than it is Chief Charles Ramsey’s job to ensure that Philadelphia succeeds economically. Their roles are merely supplemental to the success of their cities.

You can read the entire post on Stephen Danley’s blog at http://danley.rutgers.edu/2014/01/08/community-voice-suburban-perspective/.

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