Built Environment, Development, Food and Drink, Transit

Why isn’t Burlington City more of a thing?

This is a pretty hot take (as far as urbanist hot takes go), as it’s based more of a few random visits than an in-depth look at history, but here it is:

Burlington City should be more of a happening place.

I don’t know the deep history of one of South Jersey’s most historic cities (if you have more insight, I’d love to hear it), but this idea comes from having taken the River Line train a few times for dinner at Brickwall Tavern‘s Burlington location (the other, in a fascinating bit of upper-south/lower-central Jersey cultural exchange, being in Asbury Park). It’s got a downtown on par in size and scale with Collingswood’s or Bordentown’s, both DVRPC classic towns, though for some reason it doesn’t feature on the site. It has frequent rail access to Trenton, Camden, and Philadelphia, something that might become even more of an asset thanks to the big projects going on in Camden thanks to a strategy of tax-incentivized development there and when the project to extended it to downtown Trenton offices comes to fruition. It also has old, historic buildings and neighborhoods thanks to it being one of South Jersey’s oldest cities incorporated in 1693 and it’s located along the Delaware River and its riverfront has plans for improvement. It seems to me to have a lot of elements of successful places, and it actually reminds me of many desirable historic Massachusetts towns.

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But of course, since it’s in New Jersey, it’s been hobbled over the years by the state’s pro-suburban, anti-city policies. For instance, take a look at the border of Burlington City, where the downtown and old neighborhoods are, and Burlington Township, the suburban neighborhoods that ring the city:

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This is a classic New Jersey move, and one of the reasons we have over 550 distinct municipalities. To me, the reason is pretty clear: politicians in Trenton spent the 20th century enabling suburbanites to disentangle themselves from cities and live a separate, oh-so-perfect suburban lifestyle without having to be a part of the historic cities and urban areas they would otherwise naturally be a part of. And just like in many other parts of the state, when they suburbanized in the 20th century, they built their own commercial outlets do they didn’t have to go downtown anymore: the shopping mall. In the case of Burlington Township, that takes the form of the failing Burlington Center Mall on the other side of I-295 from the city. The gigantic road its on also includes a Walmart and various other strip plazas.

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But given people in my generation gravitating away from the incredibly boring, sterile suburbs the generation before us built and toward cities and interesting urban areas, I think Burlington City could see a renewed interest over the next decade. It’s got the bones and location to be successful. I think it’s an area to watch as we get further away from the failed ideal of 20th century suburbia and work on improving cities left behind by baby boomers.

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Camden, Food and Drink

This Saturday is your last chance to check out Cooper River Distiller’s Camden Cocktail Club

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Every Saturday for the past few weeks, James Yoakum has been holding hours at his Cooper River distillery in downtown Camden. (If you haven’t heard of him, here’s an article to catch you up on the second distillery to open in New Jersey, and the only in South Jersey, in recent years.) He’s calling the September events the “Camden Cocktail Club”, and they usually last for a good part of the afternoon at 34 N. 4th Street. There’s a huge array of drinks to try, from unique creations like Petty’s Island Punch, a mix of rosé, rum, and amaretto, and Camden Cream, which involves rum, Kahlua, and half-and-half, to classic mojitos and piña coladas, all delicious. The distillery itself is a great space, and James plays a welcoming host happy to show you what he’s up to and give you some insight into how it came to be that he’s distilling rum in the City Invincible.

If you haven’t been to check it out yet, this coming Saturday would be a great time to do so. Here’s some info on this weekend from their website:

“September 27th, 2014 – Cowboy Up & Drink ‘em Down – 2:30pm – 7:00pm – Ever feel like you ‘shoulda been a cowboy?’ We’ll this is your chance! Whether or not you’re going to the Toby Keith concert at the Susquehanna Bank Center you’re invited to stop by the distillery for free tours, cowboy-themed cocktails, and a boot-scootin’ playlist of James’ favorite country tunes! Black Eyed Susan’s food cart will also be here providing some delicious cowboy grub! Country-western attire awarded with drink discounts! Up-to-the-minute info here!

If you’re going to the CFET benefit concert featuring Kevin Eubanks at Rutgers’ Gordon Theatre, present your ticket for 1/2 priced cocktails from 5:30-7:00pm!”

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For more information, check out the distillery’s packed events page at http://cooperriverdistillers.com/CRD/?page_id=402

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Food and Drink

Restaurant Weeks in South Jersey

There may not be much that South Jersey is known for outside of its shore resort towns, but the fact that we’ve got a booming restaurant scene is something even non-locals know. Take a walk down Haddon Ave or Kings Highway on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, and you’ll see tons of people coming out of cars with plates from states like Pennsylvania, New York, or Maryland. Collingswood has gotten a lot of press for its restaurants over the past few years, but Haddonfield, Westmont, and Cherry Hill can all hold their own in this category.

Something I’ve only recently started paying attention to is the idea of a restaurant week, where restaurants in an entire city, town, or just in a neighborhood will offer set menus at set prices. It’s a great way to get out to places you might not have gone to before, especially if a place usually has much higher prices. It’s usually major cities that make a big deal out of it, with at least moderate-budget marketing campaigns around them. I’ve been happy though to see South Jersey towns and counties putting together weeks for discovering what restaurants in the area have to offer. Here’re a few upcoming events to check out, and some recently-passed ones to give a try next time.

Collingswood Restaurant Week, March 23rd-28th

Jersey Shore Restaurant Week, April 4th-18th

Bordentown Restaurant Week on Farnsworth Avenue, April 13th-18th

Cherry Hill Mall Restaurant Week (Seriously), July

Unfortunately, I was too late to include the general South Jersey week, which features a ton of area restaurants across multiple counties and which ends today, and Atlantic City’s, which ran earlier this month. If you know of any others in South Jersey, let me know!

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