Camden is suffering from an identity crisis. Many cities across this nation are known for something. This summer I went to New Orleans, which is known for its culture, food, and music; despite the crime, the city attract thousands of tourists who want the New Orleans experience. Philadelphia is known for the cheese steak, the energetic sports fans, and now its crime rate. Camden certainly has a reputation, but for what that is good or true? Recently, I asked some city leaders this question and got very different answers from people that are supposed to work together to bring necessary change to the residents.
To some, this should be a city of schools and hospitals, also known as "eds and meds". To others, this should be a technology and research city, that focuses on high tech jobs. To many, the city should be a little of everything great. All of these ideas are just as unrealistic as they are ambitious.
Camden could be a city of freshness. Start a business, start your education - go to college, start eating healthy - buy your fruit and vegetables, start eating ethnic food - eat something you wouldn't eat at home. This city has a strong and healthy culture of 50,000 young people that is currently ignored when planning the future. People that live in Camden and near here, love to dance, freestyle rap, sing, party, and eat good food. We have tasty restaurants that serve authentic and delicious authentic food - from San Lucas on 26th and Federal, to Deborah's Kitchen on Haddon & Chestnut.
There are also many people that would love to start a small business, but need a little guidance. Many of the current plans, which are fragmented and incomplete, consistently move towards catering to an elite group of outsiders, without considering the status of the residents.
We need to find our identity by looking at who we really are. The newest data shows that Camden has an increasing immigrant Hispanic population, primarily not from Puerto Rico. Poverty is increasing in the city. More jobs and businesses are leaving than coming. We suffer from the classic brain drain, where students that graduate from our public schools, do not plan on returning to Camden when they graduate from college. As our future is defined, we should not ignore that Camden has a majority of residents that are struggle to survive in poverty, with little opportunity to living wage jobs, and skills and education that is not sufficient for the local labor market.
We need to define our future and make sure government, non-profits, the community, and private sector work together to bring the resources to make the vision a reality. On the wall of city hall, you will read the quote from the book of Proverbs in the bible; where there is no vision the people will perish. Before another dollar is spent, we need to end the division, define our mission, and know our vision for the future. I recommend that City Council, the Mayor, the Department of Development and Planning, The Camden Redevelopment Agency board, the Economic Recovery Board, the Chief Operating Officer, the Department of Community Affairs, the Higher Education Task force, and the Greater Camden Partnership to come together to adopt a simple vision that the city should move towards. This same group should responsible for the implementation and success of that plan. Many of those are ready, but there must be central leadership to make it work. I express this idea, with the hope to get the proverbial ball rolling, knowing it weighs more than any one person or organization can carry.
Whoever we decide to be, we must decide to leave the city better off for our youngest generation than how they born into it.