This guest post is by Keith Benson, a local teacher, resident, NJEA member, and Rutgers-Camden PhD candidate:

On the heels of the Mayor and other city big-wigs touting the arrival of a new Philadelphia 76ers PRACTICE (“We’re talkin’ about practice!”) facility that will cost taxpayers $82 Million, and for that king’s ransom, yield a paltry 50 city seasonal and presumably low-paying jobs (do the math on that one), and hearing tales of a school staff member about to be presumably laid-off, I woke up this morning confused and angry as to what is going in this city. In steady succession, academic literature, news articles, and blogs which I have recently read flooded my mind and helped me to understand what is taking place in this city…

Within a similar conceptual framework of academic researchers and practitioners Pauline Lipman of University of Illinois-Chicago, Valerie Kinloch of Ohio State University, Leslie T. Fenwick of Howard University, and Stephen Danley of Rutgers University-Camden, I’ve come to the realization that our city, Camden, is being forcibly changed to cater specifically to those who DON’T live here – with urban school “reform” as the tool and rationale for mayoral-sponsored gentrification. In Camden, a City for Others, Danley writes, “This city is not designed for its residents. And its residents know that.” Understanding that statement is critical toward understanding what is taking place here both educationally and demographically.

In numerous articles, both Lipman and Fenwick investigated and researched the neo-liberal urban school reforms of school closures and establishing of authoritarian, politically-connected corporate run charters in Chicago and Washington, respectively. Both have found that politically endorsed education “reforms” have little to do with improving education for poor and working class black and Hispanic children at all, but much more to do with “re-appropriating urban space” (Kinloch, 2007) to attract young, childless, middle-class white professionals. School reform here in Camden, like other urban areas including Harlem and Boston, is about replacing the current minority low SES residents, in favor of more “desirable” residents with higher incomes and, often, lighter skin. Unfortunately, dismantling the Camden’s public schools is a cornerstone of Mayor Dana Redd’s (and other urban mayors) gentrification agenda to attract outsiders to come and homestead here. The persistent mis-categorization and politicization of Camden’s public school “failures” and the city’s enduring image as one of the most violent cities in America have kept middle-class white outsiders in the staid, leafy-green suburbs away from the governmental dysfunction and poverty minorities here have been forced to endure for decades.

Through aggressive, if not imperialist, initiatives like “Live Camden” seeking to give away the store for new Camden home-seekers in the specific neighborhoods of (white) Cooper Grant and the (increasingly white) Downtown Area near Cooper’s Hospital, the “Eds and Meds” plan that seeks to establish educational and medical corridors through vast swaths of the city through buyouts and even eminent domain, and the Mayor’s request that our public school district to be taken over by the state, (which in turn, deliberately staffed Central Administration with a horde of young six-figure earners who not surprisingly, reside in the posh Victor Building far removed from the experiences and realities of city residents) the Mayor’s vision of a gentrified Camden is obvious. Camden, a City for Others.

At every turn, on every issue confounding our city, our Mayor and city “leadership” have relied on the belief that the solution wrests in the hands of outside others. Despite the fact our public schools serve a citizenry mired in generational and concentrated poverty (due largely to historic discriminatory policies and inherent structural inequality) that greatly affects students’ scholastic outcomes, our city leadership is placing its hopes in corporate-led charters like Mastery, UnCommon Schools, and KIPP (please YouTube some clips of their respective pedagogical techniques which are simply horrifying) staffed with mostly white TFA corps members who will only temporarily fill the role of teacher children. (Indeed, 56% of TFA corps members leave their positions after 2 years.) And despite Camden for too long, to too many people, has been considered a place to move from rather than live in, instead of catering and rewarding those who have shown a commitment to stay and live here, the Mayor and powered elite frequently look past the residents already here. And so goes, as Danley wrote, “The message to local residents is clear: The nice things here aren’t for you. We need other people.”


  • @Steve and Miguel – there are a number of reasons why these truths need to be discussed. Your obvious ignorance is just one reason. Camden may have $300,000 homes one day. But you and I will be long gone and dead by then. You cannot begin to address the real problems in the city, so long as you bury your head in the sand. Wishful thinking and daily have fueled the development of Camden for 40 years. People such as yourself always seem to forget about supply and demand. It’s the fundamental force of capitalism. There is no demand for Camden. Period.

    You are very misguided and incorrect by thinking that I, or anyone else, wants to see camden fail. You are a shining example of the people I mentioned above. You suppress and chastise anyone who speaks of the reality in Camden. Camden is like a junkie that hasn’t admitted it has a problem. Sure, it cannot hide the obvious problems. But the city continues to pretend that it is “open for business”. That is where the farce begins. The city is an extremely toxic environment for businesses and homeowners. That is a major problem. I hope to one day see Camden truly flourish.

    In the meantime – you have a better chance of immaculately conceiving twins than living to see $300,000 homes in camden.

  • You have people that want to see camden do great. You have others who for their own egos want to see Camden do bad so they can say see I told you so. Those are the ones who you cant ever please. Or so they can write a book saying how bad camden is. Camden is moving forward. Get used to it.

  • Camden is getting better with or without you. How will it feel when a home will cost well over 300.000 thousand dollars. I’m a part of the solution. Not the problem. Welcome to the city of hope.

  • Thank you [editor’s note: I’m going to redact names in the comments of people who want to stay anonymous]. Agree with most of what you say.
    *The night garden did not cost $1m. Closer to 5% of that actually.
    To your point though… there is a $1m grant to be spent over 2 years floating around.

  • Newsflash: this has nothing to do with gentrification. And the schools aren’t being reformed, they’re being privatized. And not for “white people”, as you so claim. They’re being privatized for PROFIT. As for the other “amenities” that you reference – what amenities? The mega-projects on the waterfront weren’t built for whitey. They were built as a result of the “build it and they will come” development philosophy that has dominated Camden for over 40 years. There’s a crappy baseball stadium, an annoying entertainment venue, and an aquarium that is owned and operated by Christian fundamentalists from Ohio. Not exactly the land of milk and honey. So please stop with the dramatic conclusions that make everything about class and race. And stop referring to these development disasters as “gentrification”. You’re giving Camden officials/leaders WAY too much credit. This is a bloated public relations and marketing effort. Above all, the 76ers PRACTICE facility is a disastrous waste of money. As previously stated in other media articles, this is just another “mega project” that is meant to give the illusion of “things are happening in Camden”. Like clockwork, another tacky, useless, ugly “thing” is built on or near the waterfront. These “things” are always touted as a catalyst for change and PROOF that Camden is on the rise.

    As for gentrification? Camden should be so lucky. There is no gentrification. Any progress that you see is smoke and mirrors. The projects that do come to fruition are always over-budget, years behind schedule, and they do not pay taxes or produce jobs. More importantly, these mega projects and other ancillary developments are always made possible with tax payer money. Even the few developments downtown that are touted as private-sector/market rate are subsidized and chock full of government support. Millions upon millions of dollars is spent on idiotic mega-projects, low income housing, political pet projects, and useless yuppie projects that are 15 years ahead of their time (Camden bike trails, etc).

    With $87M dollars, you could rehabilitate HUNDREDS of abandoned homes throughout the city. Now, THAT would create jobs. The civic and political leaders always claim that there is never any money for sensible projects and plans, yet they always seem to find the funding for another useless mega project that is a failure before it’s ever built. The public and private sector “development” people have little or nothing to show for their efforts, so they jump at any opportunity to build or create SOMETHING. “Oh look, there’s an empty lot. Let’s build a garden….or a park bench….or a mural of Dana Redd. ANYTHING”. When I learned of the cost associated with the “night gardens”, I almost threw up in my mouth. Close to $1M dollars for what?!? And now they have secured another $500,000 for additional “programming”? We can’t tear down the crack house next to a school or repair a sewer pipe, but we can find $1M so we can prance around in the dark on a vacant lot. It just blows my mind. I suppose it goes along with the other two development mantras: “Anything is better than nothing” and “it’s better than it was”. That’s really something to be proud of.

    Whatever happened to the “business space” at L3? That was supposed to be a small business incubator of sorts. Then they said it will only be for a few large companies. Now they’re saying it is going to be for Lockheed Martin. More empty promises. They claim that there is a shortage of retail and office space, yet the city is littered with space. They claim there is a lack of housing, yet the city is full of empty homes, rental vacancies, and empty multi-purpose spaces. And the Shop Rite on Admiral Wilson Blvd? Forget that it’s the worst and most inaccessible location possible, but they haven’t even performed basic environmental studies on the site. Yet they’re promising it will open in less than 1 year. What about the transit village near Lourdes hospital that has been dead in the water for over 18 months, yet the city acts like it will break ground any day. It’s a shame that there is so little planning and intelligent design within the city. Camden is where design aesthetic and planning go to die.

    In short – don’t make this a race issue or an income issue. We are years away from that argument being relevant or accurate. This is about politicians using taxpayer money to build useless mega-projects. And these mega-projects are then used to prop up their political agenda and rhetoric. The private sector refuses to do business with a corrupt and dysfunctional city government. The only quasi-successful private sector developments happening right now are taking place in and around Cooper Hospital. They have the blessing from the powers that be, so they are able to operate in a vacuum; build and move about with little or no obstacles. And on the backend, they are subsidized to the hilt. So they aren’t true market-rate/private sector developments. They run around the city telling people that they are building and selling $240,000 homes, when in reality, they’ve only sold 5 of the 35 homes they’ve built. And even then, those sales were only possible because they struck a deal with NJHMFA to provide 100% financing with no appraisals. It’s easy to claim success when you bypass the checks and balances system of the private sector.

    Let’s address the real issues at hand: Camden is a wasteland with a corrupt and dysfunctional government. Camden’s institutional sector is just as dysfunctional. Camden and it’s stakeholders need to focus on improving infrastructure, reducing crime, and rebuilding the niche economies within the neighborhoods (local services, small grocers, other service providers). In case people haven’t noticed, the “build it and they will come” development philosophy isn’t working. And it never will. No single project – no matter how big or expensive – is capable of bringing about needed change. Change and positive growth is an organic process, not something that is engineered by a politician or civic group.

    • Totally accurate. It’s all about promises and illusions. Don’t disturb the nasty realities. Camden depends on the State’s taxpayers to “solve” Camden’s “problems”. Turn off that faucet, and Camden ceases to be what it is.

  • Good and sober piece of what the motives on the ground really seem to be in Camden. It certainly seems this way from the outside looking in. But from what I can tell, this has been true for decades. You’d think that after a while, an organic political movement would rise up against it, but that hasn’t been the case, which only makes it worse. It’s like we’re just done with politics, to our intense detriment.

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