Camden After the Fall

Camden After the Fall: Decline and Renewal in a Post-Industrial City

Howard Gillette
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Camden After the Fall
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0527-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. [Illustrations]
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    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 industrial cities affirmed through their growth the reputation that they offered the richest share of those opportunities. Generations of immigrants flowed to these areas and formed attachments to them. Changes in the second half of the century radically altered the allocation...

  6. Part I: Shifting Fortunes
    • Chapter 1 A City That Worked
      (pp. 17-38)

      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 productive in the nation came unraveled in the life of a single generation. Collective memory of that experience has coalesced into the judgment that “old Camden” is dead. Neither its once diverse economic nor...

    • Chapter 2 Camden Transformed
      (pp. 39-62)

      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 flames. Her mother was safe enough traveling in her native Italy, but her father was alone and vulnerable. Sheffield routed her husband out from bed. Together they sped westward toward Camden. As the sun rose behind them, they were shocked to...

  7. Part II: Shifting Power
    • Chapter 3 To Save Our City
      (pp. 65-94)

      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 to save his native city.¹

      Al Pierce had a chance to realize that dream. Imbued with the era’s positivist view that, with triumphs over depression and world war, anything was possible, he turned his attention to reconstructing Camden. Public opinion was...

    • Chapter 4 From City to County: The Rise of the Suburban Power Structure
      (pp. 95-120)

      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 curtailed the resources these mayors had to draw on. Even more important in determining Camden’s fate in the aftermath of the city’s industrial decline, however, were state and especially local political structures and the power they assumed. In the post-industrial era, suburbs assumed new responsibilities for managing resources that determined...

  8. Part III: Shifting Strategy
    • Chapter 5 The Downtown Waterfront: Changing Camden’s Image
      (pp. 123-144)

      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 urban areas demanding attention. Acting in the best spirit of what has since become a central element of redevelopment theory, he felt it necessary to build on existing assets.¹ In the northern part of the state, with which he was...

    • Chapter 6 The Neighborhoods: Not by Faith Alone
      (pp. 145-168)

      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 their 2000 book, Comeback Cities.¹ The inner city, Harvard research fellow Alexander Von Hoffman added in a 2003 study, “is no longer the lurid nightmare portrayed for so long on the local eleven o’clock news…. In the 1980s a scholar examining...

    • Chapter 7 The Courts: Seeking Justice and Fairness
      (pp. 169-188)

      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 skilled, who saw the advantages of a comfortable row house within easy walking distance of work. Blair’s home had previously been occupied by two Polish shipworkers, who...

  9. Part IV: Shifting Prospects
    • Chapter 8 The Politics of Recovery
      (pp. 191-215)

      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 state grant aimed at helping retain some of the four thousand workers laid off from the General Electric aerospace plant during the Bush presidency. Such “government in partnership with private industry” would...

    • Chapter 9 Future Camden: Reinventing the City, Engaging the Region
      (pp. 216-243)

      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 weighed in. A solid plan, directed at central needs and built out of a growing consensus across geographic as well as ideological interests, could well have provided a blueprint for Camden’s future. Policy seldom emerges in such...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 244-250)

    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, the paper asserted, “cares about the homeowners.” But his concern was greater. “The committee is trying to save homes and he is trying to save a city.”¹ The project in question was not Cherokee Investment’s, but a proposal...

  11. Note on Sources
    (pp. 251-252)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 253-308)
  13. Index
    (pp. 309-320)
  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 321-323)