Saturday, September 22, 2007

Hey, Doug! Camden is calling...

Fellow blogger, G Spot, and I decided to take a little tour of Camden, NJ, this morning. G Spot has been wanting to get some pictures for a post for his blog for a while now, and in the process, we got to do a little compare-n-contrast between Camden and Trenton. Note: all pictures herein are from Camden, taken earlier this morning.

I get a lot of slack from my family and out-of-town friends, about living in the hood. But (knock wood) I haven't been caught up in a gang war yet, and so I figured that maybe Camden's bad reputation is exaggerated, too.

While my experience in Trenton allowed me to not feel like a fish out of water in Camden, I will say Camden didn't exactly make me feel comfortable, either. The city, even at 8:30 in the morning, is seething, volatile, unpredictable, and shocking, even. Camden can't really sink any further into the abyss: there's nowhere to go but up at this point. Unless, of course, they opt for stagnancy. Every Trenton politician and city employee should take the 45 minute drive down I-295 to see this wasteland of a city firsthand. They need to take in the graffiti (even on the back of the cemetery's mausoleum); the piles of debris everywhere; the burned-out buildings; the weeds growing out of the gutters of buildings; the outhouse in the cemetery; the bars on all of the buildings; the failed urban renewal; the rich history crumbling into forgotten nothingness.
Camden, though languishing for more than a century, inspired Walt Whitman, one of America's finest poets. Camden is New Jersey's festering, open wound. Camden is Trenton's wake-up call.

Let's look at some stats:
  • Camden's population is just under 80,000, and while Camden is listed as 10.4 square miles, almost 2 of those square miles are water. So, roughly 9,000 people live in each of Camden's 8.8 habitable square miles.
  • Trenton's population is just over 84,000; and our square mileage is 8.1 square miles; however some of that is water, as well, giving Trenton roughly 11,000 people for each of our livable 7.6 square miles.
So, both cities are roughly the same size, but Camden residents have more room to stretch their legs.

  • Trenton was incorporated on November 13, 1792, but was settled around 1719.
  • Camden was settled in 1626, and was incorporated in 1828.
So, Camden is older, but we've had our act together for a bit longer.
  • Camden boasts a campus of one of New Jersey's (and the country's) finest institutes of higher learning, Rutgers University.
  • Trenton is home to Thomas Edison State College, one of the nation's leading distance learning institutions. Oh yeah, and we have the James Kerney Campus of Mercer County Community College, on North Broad and West Hanover streets.
No offense, TESC or MCCC, but Camden kicks our ass here, educationally.

  • Camden was declared America's Most Dangerous City by the Morgan Quitno Corporation in 2004, up from third place in 2003. It took first again in 2006, but dropped to fifth for 2007.
  • Trenton was named the fourth most dangerous city in 2005; we ranked 14th in 2006, according to the MQC survey.
So, Camden might be able to kick Trenton's ass in a rumble.

  • Camden's mayor, Gwendolyn Faison, is a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition.
  • But so is Trenton's mayor, Douglas Palmer. He's also the president of the US Conference of Mayors, which keeps him VERY busy. Be sure to check out Doug's video clips on the CoM's website!
  • Smoke that, Camden!

  • Camden's mayor, Gwen Faison, has an avenue named for her in her city.
  • Trenton's mayor, Doug Palmer, does not. He has, though, posed for Esquire, getting him national attention. No one outside Camden (except me and G Spot) has even seen Gwen Faison's avenue in person!
Take that, Camden!

  • Despite the avenue in her honor, Camden citizens began a drive to recall their mayor, Gwen Faison, in November 2006, arguing that the mayor has ignored the city's Latino neighborhoods and has allowed racial discrimination in the city's fire department.
  • Most of Trenton's residents, city council members, and newspapers don't have much bad to say about Mayor Doug Palmer.
Camden, why can't you just live and let live? Sheesh.

The cities tie for lameness here.

  • Camden has an outhouse located in an historic cemetery.
  • Trenton (as far as I know) does not.
I thought, initially, I could make a joke about the convenience of a restroom at a cemetery, but when I got out of the car to take pictures, and saw the names on the tombstones behind the Johnny-on-the-Spot, amid years of waste and litter, and overgrown weeds, I was impressed (negatively) that someone's wife, daughter, sister, mother, friend, is decomposing very literally among human waste of the worst kind: our own literal bodily waste, as well as plastic bags, fast food containers, and old clothing. I noticed, too, that someone stole most of the short metal fencing around the graves in this cemetery. A nearby mausoleum was covered in graffiti. What separates humans from most of the rest of the animal kingdom is that we bury our dead.* We bury our dead, ultimately, because we respect them.
Shame on you, Camden.
But Trenton, don't you get all sanctimonious now. If the state capital wasn't here, you know we'd do the same damn thing.

I live in Trenton, so I could be biased (but I'm not wearing rose-colored glasses, I promise) but I do think it's a way better city than Camden, over all. But we have a lot of scary stuff in common. With Camden, I've seen rock-bottom, and I hope we don't hit that.

* Studies show that chimps and elephants also bury members of their family groups.

Read a bit more about Walt Whitman's house in Camden.
Go right to the source to find out just how bad or bad your city is.


Greg Forester said...

What a coincidence! I was in Camden today too, and although it is a lot worse than Trenton they do have some things T-Town doesn't like a real live-in university, an aquarium, and some wonderful loft development on the waterfront.

Trenton could do better.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting comparison. One small note, Mahlon Stacy and company settled at "Ye Falls of the Delaware" in the spring of 1679. Stacy built the grist mill on the Assunpink that was the beginning of the town's industry (and from which Mill Hill got its name). William Trent followed, buying a huge chunk of Stacy's land and holdings from his heirs. Trent built his "summer home" in 1719.

History lesson aside, the parallels between the two cities are strong. Good analysis.

Chrissy said...

Blogger's note: I was aware of the early communities in this area, but wanted the focus of this post be the comparisions between Trenton and Camden. I took the simple route with this city's history and used the 1719 date because according to my resources, that's when the first official municipal boundaries were drawn. But thanks for reading and commenting!