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Camden SMART Initiative Revitalizes, Extends City’s Open Spaces

Pristine new open spaces and reclaimed, refurbished neighborhood park system will help boost the health of city residents

camden SMART logo

Throughout the next four weeks, NJ Spotlight will be showcasing the Camden SMART Initiative, which won the Aetna Foundation’s Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge Spotlight Award. Aetna’s Spotlight Award is part of a larger national health challenge — the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge — empowering small- to mid-sized cities and counties to make a positive health impact in their community. The Camden SMART Initiative was recognized for the work it has been doing in Camden, NJ, as part of the challenge and has received an additional $25,000 to further support its program.

The Camden SMART (Stormwater Management and Resource Training) Initiative is a collective-impact collaboration under the larger umbrella of the Camden Collaborative Initiative. The SMART Team comprises the City of Camden, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, New Jersey Tree Foundation, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and Rutgers’ Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program. The SMART Initiative’s mission is to empower Camden residents to restore and revitalize their neighborhoods through green-infrastructure projects, stormwater management policy development, and green infrastructure training programs. Throughout this series, you will learn more about the Camden SMART Initiative programs that focus on open space, youth engagement, and local environmental partnerships and how you can get involved in making Camden City a more environmentally friendly place.

What to do with all that open space?

Camden is a city of neighborhoods with a relatively extensive neighborhood park system. Unfortunately, though, many of its parks are in need of upgrades, and its vast waterfront is largely inaccessible to residents. In the past few years, the Camden SMART Initiative has worked closely with residents, community organizations, and other nonprofit and governmental partners to conceptualize two new waterfront parks — Cramer Hill Waterfront Park and North Camden Waterfront Park. The Cramer Hill Waterfront Park will transform 62 acres of landfill into a gorgeous park that will serve as a destination location for the region. Residents can look forward to trails, amphitheater, vista summit, picnic areas, playgrounds, kayak launch, and even educational signage. Construction began on this $34 million NJDEP-funded project at the beginning of March. The North Camden Waterfront Park will be a half-mile park extending from Pyne Poynt Park west to 3rd Street, with construction anticipated to begin this year.

The Camden SMART Initiative also recently completed Phoenix Park, a waterfront project that transformed a five-acre brownfield into a beautiful riverfront park. The Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA) and the SMART Initiative teamed up to purchase 227 Jefferson Street, an abandoned industrial property, using an Open Space grant provided by Camden County.

In addition to the brand-new waterfront parks, Camden County is working with Cooper’s Ferry Partnership and the City of Camden to upgrade four existing neighborhood parks. In late 2016, Camden County designated $5 million to design and construct these transformational upgrades. Guided by community input, improvements include new playground equipment, exercise stations, pavilions, fields, splash pads, lighting, and much more.

The four parks included in these upgrades are Reverend Evers Park, Whitman Park, Alberta Woods Park, and 4th and Washington Park. Construction will begin on Alberta Woods Park in April 2018, and construction is expected to begin on the remaining three parks later in 2018.

What we’ve already done with all that open space

The Camden SMART Initiative is proud to not only update and revamp existing parks but also to address severe local environmental problems. Liney Ditch Park and Phoenix Park are both located in the Waterfront South neighborhood in Camden City. With nearby industry creating air pollution, the Waterfront South neighborhood has suffered from the worst air quality in the city. To help absorb odors admitted from the various industries within the neighborhood and to assist with stormwater management, Waterfront South residents requested more trees in their local parks and neighborhoods. Camden SMART partners heard residents’ requests and responded by planting more than 100 trees that are now part of the shelterbelt at Liney Ditch Park, surrounding the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority’s wastewater treatment plant, also located in the Waterfront South neighborhood.

To learn more about open space and green infrastructure completed in the City of Camden, click here.

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