Poster Paper: Assessing Economic Revitalization in NJ: A Comparative Study of Camden and Neighboring Municipalities

Friday, November 4, 2016
Columbia Ballroom (Washington Hilton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

David Okereke, Rutgers University - Camden and Straso Jovanovski, Rutgers University, Camden

Most American cities, like Camden, NJ, suffered from decline in the later half of the 20th century as the manufacturing base and middle income residents moved out to outlying areas. The urban deindustrialization triggered massive economic inequalities and racialized poverty in cities that had driven America’s economic growth for the preceding century. While some cities began to rebound in the 1990s, having made significant revival of its distressed status, others, like Camden, have continued to decline, with any asserted revival failing to trickle down to residents. In July of 2002, the state of New Jersey enacted the Municipal Rehabilitation and Economic Recovery Act (MRERA), which was mandated to initiate a major redevelopment effort for Camden. The Camden’s revitalization plan was a direct effort to approach the city’s poverty and unemployment issues at the highest level using two major organizations that were responsible for implementing the plan: the Economic Recovery Board (ERB) and the Camden Redevelopment Agency (CRA).The “Master Plan” is a comprehensive plan for the City of Camden, aimed at achieving a vision for a brighter future as a thriving, safe, and vibrant city. It was the city’s first such city-wide effort to update the plan since 1977. This plan outlined a series of goals that chart a course for the physical improvement of Camden over the next 20 years. The rehabilitation plan for Camden projected a population base of 100,000 residents and an employment target of 50,000 jobs in two phases (Camden Panning Board, 2002). Some of the key questions guiding this research are: what accounts for the pronounced differences between Camden City and some of its comparable neighboring municipalities (e.i., Collingswood) relative to their respective economic development trajectories; what forces have allowed other cities to redevelop at the same time that Camden continued its decline; what could Camden learn from other cities; what is Camden doing right or wrong? Using decennial census and American Community Survey 5-year estimates data, and a comprehensive review of public and archival documents (official government records, publications, press releases, news reports), we attempt to provide a detailed portrait of the underlying forces perpetuating distressed cities. The quantitative analysis will consist of a series of ordinal logistic regression models as well as GIS mapping of regional economic and labor market indicators from the U.S. Census LEHD dataset- to identify clusters of employment and industry sectors and visualize change, 2002-2014. An additional dataset, the Municipal Distress Index Rankings of New Jersey municipalities, 1996-2014, will provide the baseline for comparison between Camden and other localities. The paper will conclude with a set of recommendations and implications for policy aimed at informing and guiding more effective future state and local economic redevelopment efforts.