Mayor Dana Redd says a Camden ‘renaissance’ is possible

On April 27, as angry rioters were setting fire to businesses and police cars in Baltimore, Camden Mayor Dana Redd attended a meeting with the police chief and community leaders at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University to talk to local residents about policing in the city.
 
It wasn’t an emergency session to head off a similar upheaval in Camden, Redd said. It was a previously scheduled community meeting, which the city’s been holding regularly to get feedback and input since the Camden County Police Department Metro Division took over policing duties in 2013. She’s confident the disturbances that hit Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, will not happen in Camden. “Over the last year, all we’ve gotten is praise for the police department and for the work they’re doing,” Redd said. President Obama did just that during his May 18 visit to Camden. 
 
She acknowledges that for decades, the city of Camden was synonymous with urban blight and violent crime. But over the past year, the city celebrated a simultaneous dropping of the crime rate — a trend since 2012, according to State Police crime statistics — accompanied by renewed cooperation between police and residents.
 
Redd said she wants to keep the momentum going. Her ultimate goal is to see the city come back as the thriving commercial and cultural center it used to be. And maybe, in the process, serve as a model for other depressed urban centers to emulate. A lot of that comes down to maintaining good relations between the general population and the police.
“If we continue on this trajectory, you’ll see a renaissance in this city,” she said.
 
As a kid, she saw the final days of Camden’s bustling downtown. The record stores. The movie theater. Even during the city’s decline, she said, it had nice places that never showed up on the news.
 
“It was the same four broken-down blocks that were always portrayed on TV, and you’d think all of Camden looked that way,” Redd said.
 
So what went wrong? The same thing that happened in Baltimore and Detroit, she said. A mass abandonment of urban centers for the suburbs. That’s starting to change now, with younger generations heading back to the cities. And Camden, with its proximity to Philadelphia and its less-expensive housing, is prepared to capitalize on that.
 
Far-fetched? Maybe not. She points out that Hoboken, outside New York City, has transformed from run-down and depressed to upscale and trendy in recent years.
 
She and other civic leaders are so confident Camden can follow suit, they’re already taking steps to make sure local residents don’t get squeezed out by gentrification.  Local high schools are adding courses that cater to the needs of regional employers. Other vocational programs are geared toward cultivating police officers from Camden, who are more likely to get the trust of local residents.
 
Some of the crime prevention measures have proven controversial, with technology such as “ShotSpotter” microphones and surveillance cameras drawing Big Brother comparisons in media outlets. But Redd argues that those complaints are coming from outside the city. Camden residents, she said, are fine with the technology if it brings down the crime rate.
 
She also doesn’t worry about complaints that tax breaks for recent corporate arrivals including Subaru of America, Holtec International and Lockheed Martin are detrimental to the rest of the state. “The entire region thrives when Camden is doing better,” she said.
 
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This post is part of our South Jersey Politics Blog

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