It’s great to be back for the fall!
If you haven’t checked out Steve’s Friday night roundup, I highly recommend that you read it; I’m so excited about the new set up that we’re implementing for the Local Knowledge Blog and hopefully you’ll like it too – feel free to reach out with feedback!
So for most of the summer I’ve been engaged in a mentorship program with Waterfront Ventures – a new business incubator that opened up in the old bank on 2nd and Market back in March – focused on providing a productive outlet for youth in the city who have sound business minds. The program is basically designed to pair up these youth (who have some really sharp product ideas) with business leaders in the community that have relative experience in that field. The program ends in November and at the end of the program the hope is that a sound business plan or idea is fleshed out and solidified to move forward with in (eventually) implementing.
My mentor has been specially chosen as most of my fellow mentees were focused on developing apps or had a business idea related to the technology industry. My background is strongly rooted in community economic development and public policy so it was a special challenge for Khai Tran, the founder of Waterfront Ventures, to find me a suitable mentor. Nonetheless, this summer my mentor and I have been developing an interesting project to analyze capital investments in the city of Camden.
My girlfriend and I like to go to downtown Haddonfield a lot because of their really well developed main streets. During the summer, we went to Haddonfield’s annual craft fair for the second year – we love to take our tripod dog, Sadie, and she loves meeting new pup friends and getting free dog treats. As we were walking down these streets I thought about the “corridors” that exist in Camden and I started to wonder if there were annual craft fair events like this in Camden – where the local government, police department, and city residents came together to offer amazing art, food, music, and other entertainment as an intentional outlet for community development. I reached out to some folks and realized that there was work being done but most of these events couldn’t close down full streets to allow communities to patronize their neighbor’s business savvy. The main reason wasn’t because of poor connections with the police department or community development corporations or even city hall – it was because the streets were in such poor conditions throughout the city.
As my mentor and I were starting to formulate a tangible output in the six-month mentorship program, we zeroed in on looking at capital investments and the work that needed to be done to create feasible conditions to bolster Camden’s main street development. Capital investments are those projects that focus on the physical and structural integrity of a community (roads, bridges, buildings, and the like). While I’m more interested in the effects that quality capital investment would have on the surrounding community, I am learning a lot of interesting information about the technicalities behind those improvements.
I live at the Victor and constantly use Cooper Street to go out, in, and about the city. I was amazed that right after my mentor and I had finally pegged down a general idea of my mentorship project – looking at what goes into the process of getting a street paved in the city of Camden – Cooper Street (between Broadway and 4th Street) was being paved over.
Having done some really rewarding community work in the city for the past year, I have seen most of the streets around Camden; you can imagine how shocked I was to see relatively decent streets downtown being paved over when some of the streets in Bergen Square are so horrible that the community looks like a ghost town, even during lunch hours. I’ve heard from business owners in South Camden telling me that certain parts of their communities don’t have adequate sidewalks (more comparable to dirt paths) and community residents in East Camden saying that they constantly repair the suspension on their car because of potholes on Marlton Pike.
Now while my understanding of how capital investments work in the city – I’m still doing research to support my mentorship project – I do understand that when the worst of conditions continued to be ignored while adequate conditions are saturated with attention, the results from either community tend toward complacency; and complacency tends towards a static mindset, free of conviction to better one’s community: a lack of citizenship.
Haddon Avenue has the potential as it anchors two of the best local restaurants in the city (Donkey’s and Corrine’s) as well as Broadway, Federal Street, and Mount Ephraim Avenue. Partly what makes these streets acceptable as bustling main streets is because they run through most of the city’s nine-mile span, either north-to-south or east-to-west. Partly what makes these streets acceptable is because they’ve, as a whole, been ignored or underfunded for so long. Sound and productive public leadership looks at such opportunities to attend to those things which have been ignored, marginalized, and undervalued no matter the cost or the amount of time – it’s just the right thing to do.
Jared Hunter is a current student at Rutgers-Camden pursuing his Masters in Public Administration in the community development track. His research focus includes disparities between marginalized communities and local governments as well as community development centers and anchor institutions.