Camden After the Fall
Decline and Renewal in a Post-Industrial City
Publication Year: 2006
What prevents cities whose economies have been devastated by the flight of human and monetary capital from returning to self-sufficiency? Looking at the cumulative effects of urban decline in the classic post-industrial city of Camden, New Jersey, historian Howard Gillette, Jr., probes the interaction of politics, economic restructuring, and racial bias to evaluate contemporary efforts at revitalization. In a sweeping analysis, Gillette identifies a number of related factors to explain this phenomenon, including the corrosive effects of concentrated poverty, environmental injustice, and a political bias that favors suburban amenity over urban reconstruction.
Challenging popular perceptions that poor people are responsible for the untenable living conditions in which they find themselves, Gillette reveals how the effects of political decisions made over the past half century have combined with structural inequities to sustain and prolong a city's impoverishment. Even the most admirable efforts to rebuild neighborhoods through community development and the reinvention of downtowns as tourist destinations are inadequate solutions, Gillette argues. He maintains that only a concerted regional planning response—in which a city and suburbs cooperate—is capable of achieving true revitalization. Though such a response is mandated in Camden as part of an unprecedented state intervention, its success is still not assured, given the legacy of outside antagonism to the city and its residents.
Deeply researched and forcefully argued, Camden After the Fall chronicles the history of the post-industrial American city and points toward a sustained urban revitalization strategy for the twenty-first century.
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
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There is a scene in William Dean Howells’s Hazzard of New For-tunes in which Mr. and Mrs. Basil March, new to New York City and intoxicated with its vitality even as they are frightened by its unknown qualities,take a ride on the newly constructed elevated line. As they are whisked high above the city, they become captivated by the scenes they view through the...
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Few aspects of life are as important as the places where we live. To a considerable degree they determine the resources we have available to educate and socialize our children, to shelter our families and keep them secure, and to find employment within a reasonable distance from our homes. For the first half of the twentieth century America’s largest indus-...
Part I: Shifting Fortunes
Chapter 1: A City That Worked
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Ask a former Camden resident, one who has been out of the city for years, what the city was once like, and the answer is always the same: it was a wonderful place to live and work. When the same people are asked about its present state, Camden is described only in negative terms. The foundations that once made the city one of the most economically...
Chapter 2: Camden Transformed
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At 5 a.m. on August 21, 1971, Marie Sheffield’s sleep was shattered by the harsh ring of the telephone in her otherwise peaceful suburban home. The news was devastating. Riots had broken out in Camden, some six miles away. The neighborhood where her parents, Andrew and Josephine Graziani, had bought a home for $3,900 cash in 1944 was in...
Part II: Shifting Power
Chapter 3: To Save Our City
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Like so many in his generation, Alfred Pierce eagerly enlisted for combat during World War II. A star athlete at Camden High School and an extrovert widely known as the ‘‘flaming redhead’’ for his high exuberance, Pierce had a religious vision while flying his fighter aircraft over Germany. Should he survive this test, he discerned, it was his destiny...
Chapter 4: From City to County: The Rise of the Suburban Power Structure
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Angelo Errichetti’s departure from office coincided with Ronald Reagan’s election as president and with a national assault on domestic welfare programs. The succession of African American mayors who subsequently assumed leadership were largely limited, as Poppy Sharp put it, to ‘‘managing decline.’’1 This was partly because national policy trends sharply...
Part III: Shifting Strategy
Chapter 5: The Downtown Waterfront: Changing Camden’s Image
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Before his successful campaign for governor of New Jersey in 1981, Tom Kean had never visited Camden. His first impression, during a campaign visit, was one of shock. The entire city appeared visibly blighted, and, as he noted later, it seemed that nothing was happening to reverse the trend. Once elected, he placed Camden high on his list of troubled...
Chapter 6: The Neighborhoods: Not by Faith Alone
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Nearly a quarter of a century after America’s post-industrial cities hit bottom as both private capital and public programs appeared to have abandoned the effort to reverse the situation there finally appeared to be good news. ‘‘The American inner city is rebounding—not just here and there, not just cosmetically, but fundamentally,’’ Paul Grogan and Tony Proscio declared in...
Chapter 7: The Courts: Seeking Justice and Fairness
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Gladys Blair spent the 1960s in the Parkside area of Camden, moved to the suburbs for a while, and, after separating from her husband, returned to Camden, where she bought a house on Fairview Street in the four-block square area of South Camden known as the Terraces. Located directly across from the site where New York Ship had been located, the area had once been a preferred home for shipworkers, many of them...
Part IV: Shifting Prospects
Chapter 8: The Politics of Recovery
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On a hot day in July 1992, Bill Clinton and Al Gore’s eight-bus caravan arrived in Camden to mark the first stop in the candidates’ whirlwind tour marking their nominations for national office. As the local paper noted, the candidates could have used the occasion that day to speak about a number of issues: drugs, poverty, crime, and rebuilding American cities. Instead, Bill Clinton chose to highlight a...
Chapter 9: Future Camden: Reinventing the City, Engaging the Region
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Once Camden’s recovery legislation had been secured, there was suddenly no lack of willing partners to direct the city’s future. Investors and bankers who had for a generation avoided the city became once again very much a presence. Foundations perked up and considered how they might make a difference. Activists sharpened their strategies and girded for new battles. Planners, critics, and the press...
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Taking issue with a Cramer Hill residents organization that was suing the city to prevent the reconstruction of its community, the Courier-Post acknowledged the validity of its concerns about displacement, about designating good homes ‘‘blighted,’’ and about ‘‘the callousness of the process involved.’’ The paper pointed, however, to the project’s potential in tax ratables and for ‘‘effecting economic revival.’’ Camden’s chief executive...
Note on Sources
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In completing this work, I have incurred more than the usual share of debts, none greater than to the many current and former residents of Camden who generously gave me their time and interest. In acknowledging in the text but a small portion of those I have talked to, I have not intended to slight anyone. Whether I have acknowledged their contributions directly in the text or not, I have benefitted immeasurably...
Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2006
Series Title: Politics and Culture in Modern America