Saturday, April 19, 2008

I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but grew up in a small city named Camden in New Jersey. When you enter Camden via the Benjamin Franklin Bridge or the Walt Whitman Bridge there are signs that read: “welcome to Camden watch our rebirth”…. Normally I write articles alerting you of great places one should visit...sadly this is not one of those stories. I really wish I could tell you Camden is a great place to visit and tour, but unless you like taking your life into your own hands, Camden, New Jersey probably should be avoided at all cost.

You see 40 years ago Camden, New Jersey was a rising star. I remember walking the streets in total safety; sometimes leaving the front door unlocked and not having a fear in the world, except for the occasional bully who thought it was fun to smack me around from time to time. I was proud to call Camden my home. I attended John G.Whittier Elementary School on Chestnut Street, moved on to Morgan Village Middle School, and finally graduated from Camden High School, the “Castle on the Hill.” I felt relativity safe attending all three schools. Now each of those schools are encircled by a fence, and by now when you enter my Alma Mater you are met by metal detectors and uniformed security guards.

I had to travel back to Camden this month (February) for a family emergency. My mother, who refuses to leave Camden because all of her friends live here and it is all she knows, had a heart attack and was admitted to Cooper Hospital in Camden. On the night I arrived, my flight touched down at Philadelphia International Airport at 11:02. I headed straight over the Ben Franklin Bridge to the hospital to check on her status and let her know that I was there for her. After visiting my mother I wanted (needed) to see if Camden had changed in any way, so I drove around the old neighborhood to get a firsthand look. Boy was I surprised at what I saw. At 1AM the streets were like a scene from the movie “Night of the Living Dead.” People were walking the streets trying to make eye contact with me or any other car as they passed by. I even saw one guy carrying a vacuum cleaner. Where he was going with a vacuum at 1 o’clock in the morning was a guess, but he didn’t appear as though he worked for a cleaning service.

If you drive around Camden in the daytime, you will see city blocks with either demolished buildings or abandoned homes everywhere. Now to Camden’s credit they are trying to change things. For instance, the city built an aquarium near the riverfront, which includes a symphony hall and an events center that was named Tweeter Center. The events center will soon be called the Susquehanna Bank Center. The old RCA Victor building is now loft apartments where the cost of the apartments doesn’t seem to match the economy of the city. But some of the lofts offer great views of the Philadelphia Skyline, even though they are a few blocks from the Camden County Jail and less than a mile from a state of New Jersey Correctional Facility, which was built on the same land one of my old houses, was located. But alas you can’t put lipstick on a pig and call it beautiful. I wish Camden City officials much luck turning my old city around, but to bring about a rebirth you will need to reeducate your residents. Since the beginning of 2008 there has been more than a dozen murders in Camden, the population of Camden is just over 80,000 residents… Scary!

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