Sunday, September 14, 2014

My Drive-by Photo Shoot of Camden

Posted Deirdre Oakley, CAMDEN, NJ – I recently had the pleasure of being invited to give a talk at Rutgers University’s Camden campus at the Center for Urban Research and Education (CURE). I was thoroughly impressed, not only with the center but also with the diverse and engaged group that showed up to my talk – a group that included academics, graduate and undergraduate students, as well as grassroots and civic leaders from the city. I also learned quite a bit about Camden. On the positive end it has a very well-organized and comprehensive public transportation system (something utterly lacking in Atlanta), as well as a growing university and medical institutional presence. Indeed, the Rutgers-Camden campus is beautiful and committed to doing innovative projects which engage students with the nearby communities. Many of these projects are initiated and run by the students themselves with the support of the university.

One the negative side, it’s also a city with a 42 percent poverty rate, making it one of the poorest cities in the country; and a vacancy rate just has high, even though Philadelphia is a mere stone’s throw away. On the other hand, with a reorganized police force, the murder rate has dropped from 67 to six in the last year or so. And the police aren't going around needlessly killing unarmed Black teenage males. Yet it’s still a place of extreme blight, some of which I captured in my drive-by photo shoot of Camden that my hosts were kind enough to take me on. If we had had more time we certainly would have hit the pavement. The few times I did get out of the car to take a photo, residents were friendly and seemed interested in our interest in their neighborhood.

The blight in some parts of the city was mind blowing – and this is coming from me, an urban sociologist whose visited, on foot, some of the worst parts of American cities over the last 15 years. What really struck me were the iron-gated porches right next to open porches, the boarded up buildings, and something I had never seen before: blighted cemeteries. Angelo Fichera wrote an article recently entitled Camden Cemeteries Offer No Respite from Blight.  What follows are the rest of my drive-by photos, as well as one by John Ziomek of a blighted cemetery in Camden. Taken in total these photos illustrate why a cynical urban sociologist like me came away with a new perspective on American urban blight. And guess what, I want to go back and learn more and, maybe even try to help in some way that would include all the residents. Why?  Because I really liked this city. In fact, if you could get rid of all the corrupt politicians in Jersey, this city would certainly have a chance.

     Photo Credit: Courier-Post Photo/John Ziomek.

Deirdre Oakley is the Editor of Social Shutter and an Associate Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University. She can be reached at

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