If a rising tide lifts all boats, then some would argue Camden’s fleet is getting ready to sail.
“No more waiting for Camden’s moment. Our moment is strong, our moment is now. Together, let’s make sure Camden’s rise is realized by all,” said Camden Mayor Frank Moran.
At an annual meeting for the Cooper’s Ferry Partnership nonprofit, the focus was on progress. In a city that once claimed the nation’s highest poverty and crime rates, turnaround is all the buzz. Business and civic leaders touting successes, highlighting focus areas for Camden’s comeback. Much of it, arguably, is facilitated by the 30-year-old community development corporation.
“What you’re seeing here today, whether it’s $30 million investment in parks or the $40 million investment in transportation or $ 2.2 billion investment in economic development projects, it is an absolute manifestation of that collaborative Cooper’s Ferry has been privileged to be part of,” said Kris Kolluri, president and CEO of Cooper’s Ferry Partnership.
Just several weeks into the job, Kolluri sees the changes in Camden as a holistic strategy, whose success hinges on neighborhood buy-in.
“We have essentially refurbished and renovated 400 homes in the neighborhoods over the last five to six years. So what we’ve tried to do is make sure we convince our neighbors and the neighborhoods and the neighborhood leaders that we’re there to build a partnership to make sure the prosperity that the city of Camden has seen is an inclusive one,” said Kolluri.
“I’m thrilled about where we are and I’d say in many respects, we’ve exceeded our expectations when you look at the decline in dropout rates, decrease in suspension rates, increase in proficiency rates,” said superintendent of the Camden City School District, Paymon Rouhanifard.
The Camden City School District is leading collaborative initiatives like a medical assistant apprenticeship program for high school juniors and seniors, which was created as a tool to build experience and college credits before leaving the K-12 system.
“I spoke today about Bridging the Gap and that is our signature program because it enables people whose family makes under $100,000 to be able to come without incurring much debt at all, and for the people making $60,000 and less, it means no debt whatsoever,” said Rutgers University-Camden chancellor, Phoebe Haddon.
That program is bolstering the so-called “Eds and Meds” corridor attracting 1,000 new students, a projected 9,000 over the next several years, driving interest for thousands of new jobs and growth for new businesses. Despite criticism over state tax incentives, the Camden faithful say you can’t argue with historically low crime rates and new construction at nearly every turn.
“Being born and raised in this city and also as a current resident, I remember being a kid you would hear about this company coming or this is coming. You’d get excited and it would fizzle out. I think that’s part of the reason at first people weren’t energetic about it because they’ve heard it before so many times,” said Assemblyman Arthur Barclay, whose district encompasses the city of Camden.
Now the trick is to keep that momentum going — rebuilding the city one street, one block, one neighborhood at a time.