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  1. #31

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    June 27, 2004

    Camden's Billion-Dollar Gamble

    By JILL P. CAPUZZO

    CAMDEN

    DAY after day, Mary Cortes races around Cramer Hill in her late-model black Mustang, handing out bumper stickers that say "Don't Tread on Me" and signs with the word "Cherokee" crossed out by a large red slash.

    On one such foray, Ms. Cortes found a willing recipient in Margaret Grossmick, who now has one of the signs hanging from the front porch of her tan, two-story house on Harrison Avenue - a last-ditch effort to save her home of 48 years from being torn down in the name of progress and prosperity.

    "My husband and I have lived in Cramer Hill all our lives," said the 72-year-old Ms. Grossmick, reaching for an inhaler tucked beneath the elasticized neckline of her pink polyester blouse. "We struggled paying off our mortgage, then we got siding six or seven years ago. Then we bought the lots next door. We've got it nice here and now they're saying we have to go."

    Ms. Grossmick and her husband are among the 1,200 families facing an uncertain future if a redevelopment plan with a price tag of almost $1.3 billion for this working-class neighborhood in northwest Camden - home to a predominantly Hispanic population with a sprinkling of blacks and whites - is passed by the City Council as expected on Wednesday.

    For decades, this section of Camden - physically cut off from the rest of the city by railroad tracks and two rivers - has been largely ignored by government officials, a condition underscored by the rutted roads, shattered streetlights and a perpetual flooding problem.

    But these days Cramer Hill, with its two-mile-long stretch along the Delaware and across the river from Philadelphia, is the latest object of desire among planners, who are shifting their focus from the waterfront downtown to this upriver neighborhood that abuts Pennsauken.

    Around the country, urban planners have seized on the realization that waterfront land offers the greatest potential for economic revitalization. Through millions of dollars in public subsidies and tax incentives, cities have made great strides trying to duplicate the success of the Inner Harbor in Baltimore or the Riverwalk in San Antonio. There are few locations where this phenomenon more apparent than at the northern end of the state, where development along the Hudson River in Jersey City and what is known as the Gold Coast - embracing once-gritty towns like Secaucus, West New York, Guttenberg and North Bergen - has transformed the riverfront into a miles-long stretch of office towers, high-end town houses, condominiums and fashionable shops and restaurants.

    Now Camden - the state's poorest city, so depleted in resources and spirit that headline writers long ago grew weary of grasping at adjectives to describe its deprivations - is poised to reach for its golden ring with the help of the state and private industry. The state stepped in two years ago with a $175 million bailout package, most of which has already gone toward improvements to Cooper Hospital and the state and county colleges. With just $35 million in aid left, Camden officials began looking toward private investors, like Cherokee Investment Partners of North Carolina, who last December were chosen for the $1.298 billion redevelopment of Cramer Hill.

    With plans to build 6,000 new homes, 500,000 square feet of commercial space, a marina, and perhaps most unlikely of all - an 18-hole golf course on the long-abandoned Harrison Avenue landfill - over the next 10 years, the redevelopment plan would be one of the largest such projects the state has undertaken.

    For the City of Camden, the potential is even more significant: if private companies - in this case, Cherokee - can be lured to invest in Camden, and in the process reinvent a neighborhood, why not spread the wealth to other sections of the city that are in far worse condition?

    "The private sector said, 'We believe in this neighborhood and are prepared to invest a substantial amount of money,' " said Melvin R. Primas, a former mayor here who Governor McGreevey appointed to oversee the city's revitalization effort. "Camden has not been in this position for many years. We now have developers looking all over Camden."

    For many of Camden's residents, 46 percent of whom live at or below the poverty line, the contemplation of such sweeping change is daunting. Where city and state officials see prosperity, many wary residents envision neighborhoods being gentrified to the point where they will be forced out and left with few places to move in the city or surrounding suburbs.

    Indeed, Mr. Primas acknowledged that according to the city's master plan, every neighborhood here will be designated a redevelopment zone, giving it the right to acquire properties through eminent domain.

    In Cramer Hill alone, up to 1,000 houses and 21 businesses are listed "to be acquired," while another 200 houses and 19 businesses "may be acquired" (plus an additional 64 homes to be razed to make way for a new elementary school). More than 500 of these homes are in two government-subsidized housing projects: Ablett Village, run by the Camden Housing Authority, and Centennial Village, a privately owned apartment complex that is largely subsidized by the federal government.

    Over the past several months, much of the discussion at two planning board meetings - where the redevelopment plan passed unanimously despite the presence of about 800 angry residents - focused on the displacement of the public housing residents.

    For now, the Cramer Hill plan calls for building 1,200 affordable homes - sprinkled among new homes that will sell for as much as $200,000 - to offset some of the public housing that is to be torn down, and city officials have promised residents that they will have the chance to move back into the neighborhood or elsewhere in the city.

    Nevertheless, many questions have arisen over what constitutes "affordable" in a poverty-riddled city and where the poorest residents will be able to go.

    Arijit De, executive director of the Camden Redevelopment Agency, insists that residents of Ablett Village will be given priority in the city's other public housing projects and will continue to pay the same rent; those living in Centennial Village will be given vouchers that can be used for similar rent-subsidized apartments.

    "Nobody is going to be rendered homeless," Mr. De said. "We are asking you to believe that we are here looking out for your interests."

    But Olga Pomar, a lawyer from South Jersey Legal Services who is representing the families in the two housing projects as well as many homeowners and businesses in the neighborhood, contends that the overall number of public housing units in the city has been reduced by about 30 percent in the past 10 years and that the competition for existing units is fierce.

    Currently, there are 373 people on the waiting list for public housing similar to the units scheduled for demolition at Ablett Village, according to Ms. Pomar, who also pointed out that the number of landlords willing to accept vouchers for rent subsidies has also dropped.

    "Even though they may not love Ablett and Centennial, they represent a very valuable resource for the city," Ms. Pomar said, "one that in this current funding climate we can't afford to lose."

    Moreover, city planners agree that Camden, the recipient of four large public housing grants from the federal government over the last 10 years, is unlikely to receive any more; President Bush has repeatedly tried to slash funds for public housing.

    Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution's Center on Urban and Metropolitan Housing called the endangered federal housing program the most effective one for providing new housing and revitalizing tough neighborhoods in the last 50 years, but said its future "would depend on the election, if we have a pro-housing government or not."

    Regardless of the status of the federal program, city planners say they have no desire to build another housing project in Cramer Hill, but rather want to scatter the affordable housing throughout the area.

    "We are not going to build a large low-income property in Cramer Hill," Mr. Primas said. "We don't want to build pockets of poverty. We have the lessons of many years to learn from, to do it right this time."

    From his perspective, Mr. Katz warned that city planners trying to turn around deteriorating neighborhoods not lose sight of the residents. "Some public housing agencies have paid more attention to the redevelopment than the housing," he said. "They haven't paid attention to the needs of the families or provided enough support to families before and after they move."

    While many in Camden are willing to trust city officials' promises to protect the interests of public housing residents, it is the homeowners - many of whom are not much better off than those living in public housing - whose status seems far less certain.

    To try to attract private developers, city planners came up with an ambitious vision that included far more land than a contaminated landfill or vacant lots scattered throughout the neighborhood. "We've often focused on filling in the gaps, applying Band-Aids," Mr. De said. "That's been the history. Here there was the opportunity to assemble enough land to have a real impact, that a large-scale change in the environment was in fact conceivable."

    Of the developers who responded to the city's request for proposals last year, Mr. De said, Cherokee was the only one to come back with a "holistic response" - a plan that would allow for the removal of about 700 private homes in areas desirable for redevelopment. Yet with some homes and businesses dating back more than a century, local residents feared not only the loss of their houses or workplaces but also the history and character of Cramer Hill.

    The one-square-mile neighborhood got its start in the late 1800's, when a real estate developer, Alfred Cramer, came up with the idea of selling building lots to working people on monthly installment plans. By 1897, he had sold 5,000 lots in Cramer Hill and East Camden, and by World War II, much of the present housing stock was in place.

    To some, Cramer Hill is best known as the site where Howard Unruh passed through a barber shop, a drugstore, and a local tailor shop on 32nd Street on a September morning in 1949, killing 13 people in 12 minutes.

    Today, Cramer Hill is a quiet neighborhood, with one of the city's more stable residential populations and a healthy business district along River Road. Hispanics make up 65 percent of the area's 10,000 residents, and about a third of the people live below the poverty line, according to the 2000 Census.

    A survey conducted by the Hillier Group, a private architectural firm, for the purposes of creating a redevelopment plan concluded that 28 percent of the area's 3,816 parcels of land was substandard or deteriorating, thereby fulfilling one of the state's criteria for a redevelopment designation. The drive-by survey found that 35 percent of the homes were in poor condition and 60 percent were in fair condition, according to the head of the Camden planning board, Charles Lyons Jr., though he acknowledged that the assessments were "subjective" and based solely on exterior examination.

    Ms. Cortes, a teacher's aide who has been leading the fight to block the Cherokee development, said the findings were not a surprise. In an effort to avoid attention - both of the tax assessor and would-be thieves - Ms. Cortes said many of her neighbors did not worry what the outside of their houses look like. But behind the patchwork vinyl siding and occasional boarded up windows, residents have worked to build their own notion of heaven, Ms. Cortes said

    "We are not a blighted area," said Ms. Cortes, who bought a four-bedroom split level house on Arthur Avenue 10 years ago for $27,000. "I have seen shacks that are falling apart turned into mansions."

    Mike Hagan, a native of Cramer Hill, moved to San Francisco in the 1970's then returned in 1985 to be closer to his mother and bought what is referred to locally as "the Castle," a blue, three-story turreted house on 32nd Street near the Delaware.

    "This used to be the dumps, the wrong side of the tracks," said Mr. Hagan, who bought the house - then in foreclosure - for $4,727 and like many in the neighborhood has lived mortgage-free for many years. "Now it's a real estate land grab in the guise of redevelopment."

    Mr. Hagan, a part-time house painter and pianist, went on: "It's the American dream to have a house paid for. These are people who paid off their houses long ago and thought they were good to go for the rest of their lives."

    To allay such concerns, Mr. Lyons said that homeowners who have maintained their properties and do not owe taxes will be paid the full appraised value for their homes and will be provided relocation assistance.

    Recent census data lists the median price for a home in Cramer Hill at $42,900, but Mr. Lyons said homes in the area have been selling for $60,000 to $85,000 in the last 90 days. In addition, state guidelines provide homeowners with up to $15,000 in relocation aid, which Mr. Lyons said would be paid for by the developer.

    "If you are in a two-bedroom home and you have paid off your mortgage, we will make sure you're in another two-bedroom home in or as near to Cramer Hill as you care to be," said Mr. Lyons, adding that the city will "attempt to equalize the cost, within reason."

    Still, some have questioned why established neighborhoods had to be included in the redevelopment, rather than focusing on upgrading the public housing and cleaning up the 96-acre Harrison Avenue landfill.

    For their part, city officials said there was no incentive for a private developer to simply clean up the landfill, an assessment supported by the head of Cherokee.

    "We looked at individual sites and concluded that we needed to improve a larger area to make it worthwhile," said the chief executive of Cherokee, Tom Darden. "There are not much economics in a golf course. If you're trying to support the closure of a landfill with a golf course, it's not feasible."

    Others are challenging the value of an 18-hole golf course is planned for one of the poorest cities in the United States - particularly when there is neither a movie theater nor a soccer field in all of Camden. They see the course as symbolic of the kind of gentrification they fear for the neighborhood, separating the haves - who will be living in homes worth as much as $200,000 or more - from the have-nots.

    "Golf is a little rarefied for the population," said Howard Gillette, a professor at Rutgers University-Camden who is finishing a book on the history of Camden. "But it is not too rarefied to attract those middle- to upper-middle-class people they're trying to get."

    For Cherokee, one of the nation's largest companies involved in the remediation of brownfields, building golf courses has offered one of the most affordable and expedient solutions for recycling contaminated land. In fact, the company is currently building two courses on 700 acres of landfill in the Meadowlands, and four weeks ago proposed another billion-dollar, mixed-use development for Pennsauken's waterfront.

    While the City Council appears virtually certain to approve the Cramer Hill project, skeptics are concerned about where the money is going to come from, particularly the public financing. Included in the plan as "potential funding sources" are $100 million from the state's Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, $75 million from the state Department of Community Affairs, $50 million from the federal Department of Transportation, and $35 million from the Camden Recovery Board for neighborhood improvement. At this point, however, none of those agencies have committed themselves to this project.

    Mr. Primas said parts of the plan, like a new $100 million bridge across the Cooper River and the affordable housing units, will be covered by public subsidy, while the market-rate housing and retail development will be the responsibility of private developers. Cherokee will pay for the landfill remediation, but can expect to recoup 75 percent of that cost through tax credits and environmental cleanup funds, Mr. Primas said.

    "The redevelopment plan is a general plan," he noted. "It hasn't been costed out to the penny. "These are rough numbers, what we think it's going to cost. Once we get the plan approved, then we can begin the process of negotiations."

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  2. #32

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    Quote Originally Posted by Christian Wieland
    June 27, 2004
    Camden's Billion-Dollar Gamble
    By JILL P. CAPUZZO
    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
    I understand from a friend that this story was accompanied by a rendering. I did not see the article in the Times myself. Does anyone know if the rendering was posted anywhere on the web? It's not on the Times' site, which is good, but other publications may have run it (or them). There were two aerials produced, I don't know which one was run in the paper.

    Thanks in advance
    Ernest Burden III

  3. #33

  4. #34

    Default Re: All about Camden

    I don't know WHAT that is. It sure isn't the masterplan I am familiar with. Could I be in the wrong thread? We're supposed to be discussing the Cramer Hill re-developement?

    I don't have the renderings on my site because they were the last of my watercolored work (I'm all digital now, baby!). I really was just curious which rendering was run on the paper and if they used all of it or a portion.

    Now I'm confused, too.

  5. #35

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    Sorry for all the 'extra' info, just thought it would be informative about the complete Camden vision. Aspects of the Cramer Hill re-development are laid out in the links above, including zoning and redistricting maps, etc.

    I did not find your watercolor aerial though.

  6. #36
    Forum Veteran krulltime's Avatar
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    Jasonik I think that the 'extra info' was generous for people like me who are intereted beyond NYC. I am really interested in what is going on in camden and this link you found has great information.

    Maybe NYC and the State could learn from this and built something like this development on the Brooklyn waterfront. Especially up on greenpoint.

    I am so glad there is still alot of land to be develop on the waterfront of NYC. It is going to be amazing if it is spend the right way.

  7. #37

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    Cramer Hill, bringing golf to the inner-city. And yachting, let's not forget that.

    The design won. There was a lot of interest in preserving the welfare of the current residents while bringing 'renewal'.

    There were also five sketch renderings showing pedestrian experience views. Overall, the design is well thought out. It will be interesting to see how it does, long term, for the area. Can you improve a blighted area without displacing the 'native' population? Does a rising tide lift all boats, or do some boats just have holes in them to begin with?

  8. #38

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    December 29, 2004

    Camden's Streets Go From Mean to Meanest

    By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN


    Police officers in North Camden arresting a suspect in an armed robbery.

    Slide Show: America's Most Dangerous City

    CAMDEN, N.J., Dec. 23 - If anybody was surprised that Camden was recently ranked America's most dangerous city, it wasn't the people who live here.

    In the past 12 months, there have been 53 homicides, including a 12-year-old shot to death on his porch for his radio, more than 800 aggravated assaults, including a toddler shot in the back of the head, at least 750 robberies and 150 acts of arson, more than 10,000 arrests and one glaring nonarrest - a serial rapist on the loose downtown.

    All in a city of 79,000, nine square miles small.

    For decades, Camden has been the classic model of urban despair, a place where entire city blocks are boarded up and glassy-eyed heroin addicts roam the streets and cold, empty factories stand testament to the decaying fortunes of American industry.

    But for the last couple of years, the city, on the banks of the Delaware River opposite Philadelphia, was supposed to be getting better. The state of New Jersey recently began a $175 million bailout plan and a real estate developer is about to start a $1.3 billion redevelopment gamble that includes fancy homes and, of all things, a golf course.

    And so Camden's latest explosion of violence, which defies most national trends, is, for all its tragic aspects, also miserably timed. The city's dream of renaissance is being interrupted by a brutal reality, and at the cusp of a supposed economic recovery, the most thriving trade remains crack cocaine.

    "This city would collapse without it," said Lt. Frank Cook of the Camden police.

    Drugs are thought to be responsible for a vast majority of the city's problems, and the drug trade is picking up, detectives say, with better quality narcotics hitting the streets, big-city street gangs moving in and a new breed of criminals stepping up who are sophisticated enough to provide health benefits for crack dealers.

    In a place where poverty is so concentrated - Camden is, essentially, one big blighted neighborhood - the outcome seems inevitable: more drugs, more drug wars, more bodies.

    That dark formula is what caught the attention of researchers at Morgan Quitno, a group in Lawrence, Kan., that tracks national crime data. They calculated that Camden had the highest rate of violent crime per capita in 2003 among cities of 75,000 or more. And this year looks no better, with homicides up 20 percent and counting.

    "It's not all peaches and cream out here," said Irene Miller, a prostitute who has been working Camden's streets for years. Local officials are close to desperate.

    "I feel like I'm in Falluja," said Edwin Figueroa, Camden's police chief. "I don't have enough soldiers. The enemy is out there. And we're fighting the same battle over and over and over again."

    No doubt, there are countless lives caught up in this.

    Here are five.

    Yaya Kirkland used to be a chatterbox. Now she barely coos.

    She looks up from her hospital bed, blank and drooling, a tangle of tubes and wires and hoses attached to her as if she is some sort of science project. Her shiny coffee-bean eyes are wide open. Her mother puts a finger next to her lashes. But Yaya doesn't blink. Not once.

    Sometimes her nose fills up with mucus and she makes a snorting noise. Sometimes little tears run from the corners of her eyes.

    "My baby's in pain," her mother says.

    Yaya, whose full name is Yahnajeah, is a 3-year-old casualty of Camden's drug wars. She was bouncing around the back seat of a car on her way home with her mother when a stray bullet fired from the doorway of a housing project drilled through the car's door and into the back of her head.

    This happened Oct. 28, at 9:35 p.m., in the Centerville section of town, a drug-infested stretch of rundown row houses and housing projects. Her mother, Nathenia Kirkland, had just picked up cheese fries and fried chicken for dinner.

    She heard, crack, crack. Two shots. Saw two flashes.

    When she whipped around to check on her daughter, Yaya was slumped over the back seat.

    "God, please don't take my baby, please," Ms. Kirkland recalled screaming.

    The police didn't think the girl would live. They opened a homicide investigation.

    But Yaya held on. She survived six operations and many complications, though it is not clear if she will ever fully recover.

    "She's conscious, but she's not conscious," said her great-aunt, Kathryn Blackshear. "She can see but she can't see."

    Ms. Kirkland is on her own now, a 26-year-old single mother looking after a wounded child in a city where social service agencies say 80 percent of children are born to single mothers, more than double the national average. She wanted to quit work but could not because she needs to pay the bills. She works at a nursing home folding sheets and wiping noses, and comes home at night to an empty apartment.

    "I used to hear my baby playing in her room, she said. "I used to hear Elmo."

    She is lonely and angry and frustrated and scared.

    "I'm always looking over my shoulder now," she said. "Sometimes, when I'm driving around, I feel like it's me who's about to get shot in the head."

    People say they know who the gunman is. But no witnesses will talk. No arrests have been made. In Camden, it's a familiar story.

    A Nun's Blessings

    Sister Helen Cole is known in North Camden as Sister Charles Bronson.

    The other day she was walking down York Street with an Our Lady of Guadelupe pendant swinging from her neck, past once-beautiful peaked-roof houses now encased in burglar bars, past men in hooded sweatshirts mouthing "white horse, white horse," past murals of dead boys with R.I.P. painted below their faces in huge snazzy graffiti letters, when she bumped into a neighbor.

    "Hey, Terry," she said. "Just doing a tour of the holy ground."

    "Sister," the woman replied, "all Camden is going to be holy ground soon."

    When somebody is killed, Sister Helen goes to the spot with a bottle of holy water. She lights a candle. She says a prayer. The spot becomes holy ground. She has turned sidewalks, street corners, porches, alleyways, weed-choked fields and even a Toyota Celica into holy ground. Lately, she has been very busy.

    She began this work in 1995 when the mother of a missing girl knocked on the convent's door for help. The girl had been raped and murdered. Sister Helen hasn't looked back since.

    "I'm not a seeker, an ambulance chaser," she said. "But I enjoy taking away pain. I hold out my hands and tell people, 'Give me your pain, put it in my hands, let it go.' "

    She calls it companioning.

    Every year on Good Friday, Sister Helen, a Roman Catholic nun, leads a Stations of the Cross procession through North Camden. People act out scenes from Christ's crucifixion and then stand on the street corners and belt out the names of known drug dealers and pray for them.

    "I'm not stupid," Sister Helen said. "I'm not going to go up to these guys and confront them. I value my life."

    How does she even know their names?

    "We coached them in Little League," she said

    Her church, Holy Name, has been running sports programs and social services in North Camden for years. It is one of the roughest neighborhoods in the city, and many houses have an unusual architectural feature: the totally fortified front porch, with burglar bars walling off not just windows and doors but the whole front part of the house. The police call them birdcages, and on many days when the streets are thick with drug dealers, it is the law-abiding citizen sitting behind bars.

    Sister Helen, 46, lives amid all this in a convent on State Street with four other nuns. They have a Christmas wreath bound to their porch with three chains.

    "The addicts," she explained.

    The other day, she dropped in at La Dominicana, a corner store, with the daughter of the man who used to run it.

    "This is where the lookout stood," the girl said flatly as she opened the door.

    "This is where the robber was," the girl added as she walked in. "And this is where my father got shot."

    "More holy ground," Sister Helen said.

    One Man's Vision

    At the top of Camden City Hall is a saying chiseled into stone: "In a dream I saw a city invincible."

    Walt Whitman, Camden's most famous resident, wrote those words in 1860. Randy Primas, Camden's revitalization czar, still believes in them.

    Mr. Primas steps to his window on the 13th floor of City Hall and looks out across the rooftops. He doesn't see the killing fields of North Camden where Sister Helen lights her candles. He doesn't see the Camden that is. He sees high-rise condos rising up from the waterfront, and new office towers in front of the Philadelphia skyline, and business and people flocking to downtown instead of fleeing in a trail of taillights when the sun goes down. He sees the Camden that will be, something like the Camden that once was.

    "You know, Camden used to make everything from a pen to a battleship," Mr. Primas said. "It was a smokestack town. It had hundreds of factories. People had jobs. It worked."

    Mr. Primas, 55, was a popular mayor in the 1980's and is among Camden's select few over the past 20 years not to be indicted. Then he moved away to the suburbs and made a lot of money working for a bank.

    Two years ago, he came back to perform miracles. So far, it's been slow going.

    He was appointed by the state to be Camden's chief operating officer, in charge of the $175 million bailout plan, with veto power over the mayor and the City Council.

    Already, he has had to take the City Council to court three times to force it to approve his plans.

    His goal is jobs.

    "We've got to give these young men on the corners something to do," he said.

    He rattled off a list of businesses that had closed since the 1960's - New York Shipyards, the Haddon book bindery, the Campbell soup factory. He remembered summer days when the produce trucks would line up at the factory and the streets would run red - with tomato juice.

    He gave statistics of today's Camden: 20 percent of the city is unemployed; per-capita income is $9,815; half of the residents did not finish high school; one out of 20 graduated from college; 46 percent of children live in poverty.

    "That $175 million may sound like a lot of money for this place," Mr. Primas went on. "But it's going to take billions."

    Drugs and Real Estate

    Kenny Jenkins used to cut an impressive figure in his silk shirts and Versace suits, driving his $60,000 Lincoln Navigator with the $10,000 rims around the Louis Street wasteland where he grew up. According to federal prosecutors, he was one of the biggest dealers in town, raking in $300,000 a week.

    Now he is locked up and facing 30 years to life.

    Over the past few weeks, in a hushed courtroom in the Camden federal building, prosecutors have tried to methodically build a case against Mr. Jenkins, 36, painting him as the living, breathing, crack-dealing embodiment of Camden's ruin - but with a twist.

    After amassing a mountain of cash, prosecutors said, Mr. Jenkins tried to go straight by buying rundown houses, fixing them up and selling them. The problem was, prosecutors said, he defrauded mortgage companies and home buyers every step of the way.

    They have called a string of witnesses to detail Mr. Jenkins's rise to power, starting with accounts of his humble beginnings as a high school dropout selling crack at the corner of Louis and Chestnut Streets, one of the city's most notorious intersections, to his emergence as a major player in powdered cocaine.

    "You will hear how the profits were staggering at times, and that the cash was spent often as quickly as it came in," said Marc-Philip Ferzan, one of the prosecutors, at the beginning of the trial. "Cristal Champagne at $500 a bottle, expensive cars, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Lincoln Navigators, S.U.V.'s, the finest designer clothes like Versace, Prada, Gucci, jewelry, Rolex watches, gold necklaces, diamond earrings, women."

    As one police officer put it, Camden is "the richest poorest city in the country." And at any given moment, the war on drugs is playing out in multiple sites across the city's compact downtown - the federal court, the state court, the methadone clinic, the police station, the prosecutor's office, the county health bureau - all within walking distance of one another, almost like a mini-Olympics for the narcotics game.

    But for all the drugs coursing through Camden's veins, there won't be any on display at the Jenkins trial. Despite three years of investigation, federal agents were not able to seize even a dime bag connected to him.

    "This is a dope case with no dope," said his defense lawyer, Michael E. Riley. "They don't have any physical evidence to prove Kenny is anything but a legitimate businessman in the home repair business."

    Mr. Jenkins, who was convicted of drug dealing in 1998, was not available for comment. The other day he sat in court in a crisp dress shirt, cupping his face, rubbing his shaved head, studying the faces of the witnesses, his old friends.

    He was heard only when prosecutors played a tape recorded by an informant.

    "There ain't nothing she can say about me," Mr. Jenkins said on the tape, referring to the possibility of his ex-girlfriend's testifying. "What? I sold drugs? They know that."

    View From a Police Car

    Capt. Harry Leon does not see America winning the war on drugs. His goal is a little smaller." I just try to keep the corner clean where my mama lives," he said.

    As the sun sank behind Philadelphia's skyline, across the river but a world away, Captain Leon glided down Federal Street in his sleek black Crown Victoria, a complete mess rolling past his windows: houses half standing, half falling down, littered lots, broken down cars, teenage boys in groups with their middle-school lookouts riding bikes.

    "We can suppress but we can't eradicate," said Captain Leon, who has been patrolling Camden for 15 years. A drug dealer once blew up his truck, and after that Captain Leon said his wife "strongly suggested" they move out of Camden. They did.

    He said the Camden Police Department constantly shifted its tactics: officers on foot, officers on bikes, officers on horseback, going hard, going soft, going in between.

    "But they figure it out," he said.

    Today's drug dealers speak in code and use untraceable cellphones and brand their white bags of powder with special stamps to differentiate themselves, he said. The latest craze now is "wet," a marijuana joint rolled in embalming fluid.

    Drug crimes and gun crimes are the two top priorities. Last summer Camden's law enforcement agencies, who are often at odds with each other, banded together to form a "shoot team" to investigate nonfatal shootings with the same rigor usually reserved for homicides. So far, they have increased the number of closed cases on aggravated assaults from 18 percent to 45 percent.

    "The key is getting people to talk," said Sgt. Eddie Ramos, head of the shoot team. "We'll show up at a gun call and everybody will be standing around saying nothing happened and we'll turn the corner and find a body."

    Where the bodies fall is often memorialized. It has become almost an urban cliché. But in Camden the sidewalk memorials are truly inescapable, one after another testifying to the swift current carrying the city's young men away.

    During his patrol, Captain Leon stopped by a huge richly detailed mural of a 27-year-old man called "B." He had soft eyes and a little mustache. His face was in the clouds.

    "We're going to tear this down," Captain Leon said.

    Why?

    " 'Cause it glorifies death."

    But before he got back into the car, Captain Leon looked up once more at the mural.

    "Beautiful though, ain't it?" he said.

    Graphic: Mired in Urban Despair

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  9. #39

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    Camden, N.J., Ranked Most-Dangerous City

    By GEOFF MULVIHILL
    Associated Press Writer

    November 21, 2005, 12:04 AM EST

    CAMDEN, N.J. -- For the second year in a row, this destitute city has been named the nation's most dangerous, according to a company's annual ranking based on crime statistics.

    Last year, the distinction seemed to hurt city boosters' feelings more than it harmed revitalization efforts. This time, city leaders are offended by the ranking, calling it unfair.

    "We're doing so many nice things now. It's unfortunate that somebody always wants to bad-mouth Camden," Mayor Gwendolyn Faison said.

    The city took the top spot last year from Detroit, which remained No. 2 in the most dangerous city rankings, to be released Monday by Morgan Quitno Press. The Lawrence, Kan.-based company publishes "City Crime Rankings," an annual reference book.

    Camden, a former industrial city across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, is known for a history of corrupt politicians, drug-dealing and murders. It has been among the top 10 in the most dangerous city rankings in each of the eight years Morgan Quitno released them. By most measures, it is also among the nation's poorest.

    The has state poured $175 million into the city to spur development projects and take over parts of its government, the city's aquarium doubled in size and a new library and technology center were built. Tourism continues to increase along the river, home to the aquarium, an amphitheater, a minor-league baseball park and a retired battleship.

    But about 100 fewer prospective students than expected attended Rutgers University's downtown campus last year, something Provost Roger Dennis attributes to the crime ranking and a serial rapist who assaulted women near and on campus last fall.

    Police are now using computers to try to track crime trends, and more officers are patrolling the city's neighborhoods.

    Authorities say that has helped drive down the most serious crimes by 18 percent in the first 10 months of 2005 compared with the same period a year earlier.

    Some residents say their neighborhoods feel a bit safer.

    "I haven't heard that many gunshots," said Gracy Muniz, 22, a mother of three who lives in North Camden.

    Critics note that Morgan Quitno's ranking is based on data from last year, when the city of 80,000 averaged a murder a week. Murders from January through October were down by 45 percent compared with the same period in 2004.

    Scott Morgan, president of Morgan Quitno, said Friday that while the numbers may not be perfect, they are one of the only ways to compare crime in different cities.

    *Copyright © 2005, The Associated Press

  10. #40
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    An overview of the safest and most dangerous overall, in addition to by population group, can be viewed here:

    http://morganquitno.com/xcit06pop.htm#25

    New York is considered the fourth-safest among cities with at least 500,000 people; among cities with over a million, it's the safest. Dallas is the fifth-most dangerous city with at least 500,000 people, and the most dangerous among cities with at least a million.

  11. #41

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    November 22, 2005

    Is Most Dangerous City in U.S. Turning Around?

    By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN

    CAMDEN, N.J., Nov. 21 - For the second year in a row, Camden has been ranked the most dangerous city in America, but this year Camden's leaders refused to take the news without hitting back.

    On Monday, the day the rankings were announced, Camden's leaders held a rally, with ringing gospel songs, dances and speeches that criticized the crime rankings as meaningless and insulting. About 100 people turned out.

    Then, to make their point, city leaders organized a trolley ride for journalists to see new construction sites and other signs of progress. But all along the way, block after run-down block, boys in puffy jackets lingered in doorways of abandoned homes, glaring at the trolley or looking out from under their hooded sweatshirts at smokestacks in the distance that appeared to be rising from the weeds.

    Vincent P. Sarubbi, the Camden County prosecutor, is leading the drive to rescue Camden's image.

    "We wanted to show the other side of the story," he said during the trolley ride.

    Mr. Sarubbi explained that city leaders knew that Camden was about to get another drubbing. Every fall, Morgan Quitno, a publishing firm in Kansas, releases its survey of the safest and most dangerous cities in the country, based on per capita crime rates, and Camden, which has about 80,000 residents, was once again on track to be at the bottom. Mr. Sarubbi blames the survey for scaring off development.

    So about a month ago, at Mr. Sarubbi's urging, public officials formed a task force. It did not have a name, although a program circulated at Monday's rally was labeled, "Camden says no to Quitno." There was also a sheet of talking points.

    Police Chief Edwin Figueroa said the report was out of date because it was based on data from 2004, the last complete year on record and an especially bloody one for Camden, with 54 homicides, including that of a 12-year-old boy killed on his porch for his radio.

    This year has been much better, with homicides down 35 percent to 31 so far this year, and major crime down 18 percent.

    "We're making silent progress," the chief said. "There are good things happening here. It's just no one advertises it."

    Camden officials also said that the survey does not include all cities in the country, because some do not collect crime data in the same ways.

    But Scott Morgan, the president of Morgan Quitno, responded that even if all the cities in the country were included, Camden still would have been ranked the most dangerous. (Detroit was second and St. Louis was third, while Newton, Mass., was listed as the safest city in the country.)

    "I don't think the messenger is the problem here," he said. "The numbers are what they are."

    He also said that every year, after the survey comes out, he hears complaints from cities ranked among the most dangerous.

    What was unusual this year, he said, was that Camden started complaining before the survey was released.

    "Obviously, they realize they have a crime issue," he said.

    Mr. Morgan explained that the rankings are straightforward tables based on six major crime categories: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and vehicle theft.

    But maybe the numbers do not tell all. During the trolley tour, Mr. Sarubbi and other city leaders pointed out evidence of hope: a home for the elderly going up here, a cleaned up street corner there, a new hospital wing, a club for boys and girls and the first library built in 100 years. And all along the waterfront, they said, attractions were drawing record crowds.

    Mr. Sarubbi said aggressive police tactics and long-awaited investment were turning the city around.

    Camden used to be an industrial powerhouse, a city of workers who bolted together battleships during World War II and squeezed mountains of tomatoes for the town's Campbell soup factory. Old timers remember the streets running red with juice.

    But in the 1970's, the city, located on the Delaware River opposite Philadelphia, began its long, slow slide. The jobs went overseas. The middle class left.

    Now Camden is a town with plywood on the windows, garbage on the grass and plenty of fear.

    Jackie Walls, a single mother, wants to move.

    Where?

    "Anywhere but here," she said.

    Ms. Walls shrugged when asked about the report. Does it make Camden seem worse than it really is?

    She answered with a story. Four years ago, she was at a check cashing shop on Mount Ephraim Avenue when she saw a man with a long silver handgun walk up to another man standing in a crowd. The man with the gun shot him in the head, just feet from Ms. Walls - she remembers seeing the flash of gunpowder - watched him fall, and then shot him four more times. The gunman then walked away. Nobody did anything.

    "I think about it every time I cash a check," she said. "I keep seeing that gun."


  12. #42
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    http://www.nbc10.com/news/5796723/detail.html

    Camden Murder Rate Down In 2005
    City's Murder Rate Still Seven Times National Average


    January 2, 2006

    CAMDEN, N.J. -- The number of murders committed in Camden, N.J., was down sharply last year.

    The city had 34 homicides in the city in 2005, including four in the last two weeks. That is 15 fewer murders than in 2004, and it's the lowest number since 2002.

    Camden's murder rate was still about seven times the national rate of about 5.5 per 100,000 residents.

    Over the past few years, authorities in Camden, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, have tried ambitious new crime-fighting efforts, including a reorganization of the city police department.

    This year, the U.S. Marshal's Office has arrested more than 300 fugitives and a new task force has been established to solve nonfatal shootings.

    Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  13. #43

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    I live roughly a half-hour from Camden, maybe a few minutes less.

    At present, I feel that Camden is still a "hole", for lack of a better word. One of my co-workers lives in Cramer Hill and seems to be pretty much in denial about her eventual displacement. All I can do is wish her and her four young daughters all the luck in the world when they do have their house taken away.

    Sometimes I do have to go to Camden. I served 17 weeks on Grand Jury last year, and every single case within the city limits of Camden was a cookie-cutter drug case. Last month I needed to get some paperwork at the Hall of Justice, and my boyfriend, who is a detox counselor, took me to a methadone clinic across the street (he was looking for someone he went to certification classes with who works there). Approaching this unmarked gray door, I felt all the apprehension of being in an unsafe neighborhood crawling up inside of me. Thank G-d I was with a man 6'4", 280! Once inside, of course, it was bright and cheerful, and so were the people. The bathroom was interesting, since I had to use it.

    I grew up in a large metropolitan area, but Camden's different. You have to have 50 eyes and 50 ears.

    I haven't taken the River Line as of yet, but I think this might be a good way for me to approach New York, getting off at Trenton and then taking the Northeast Corridor train (any thoughts?).

    I've talked to quite a few old-timers who grew up in Camden, and they just shake their heads. It depresses them to just read the paper about it. It'll take a lot to fix Camden. A lot.

  14. #44
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    Default Tour of Camden!

    For poet of the people, tour aims to get people into Camden

    5/28/2006, 12:00 a.m. ET
    By GEOFF MULVIHILL
    The Associated Press

    CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) — It doesn't take much time in this city to have doubts about a line its most famous resident, 19th century poet Walt Whitman, wrote about it: "I dream'd in a dream I saw a city invincible."

    In the decades after Whitman died here in 1892, the city just east of Philadelphia became a center of industry, home to RCA and Campbell Soup. Then it suffered decline that left Camden one of the poorest cities in the country, a place best known for government corruption and crime.

    Now, local boosters are trying to get visitors to come see and explore Whitman's city — and not just the well patrolled sliver of it along the Delaware River that attracts some tourists.

    The Walt Whitman & His Invincible City tour being offered this summer passes through neighborhoods of boarded-up houses and shuttered businesses, albeit on an air-conditioned bus. It's the first major effort by tourism officials to get visitors into parts of Camden away from the waterfront.

    The tour, which celebrates the writer of "Leaves of Grass" and perhaps most famously an ode to Abraham Lincoln, "O Captain! My Captain!", is in contrast to a familiar scene on nights when the waterfront Tweeter Center has a concert. For concerts, police line the streets, directing traffic and ensuring concertgoers don't end up anywhere but the waterfront.

    Since the early 1990s, not long after the last major factory there was shut down, the waterfront has become a draw for people in Philadelphia and the suburbs. The waterfront area features a minor-league baseball stadium, a concert amphitheater, an aquarium and a battleship open for tours.

    But the prosperity of that stretch of the city has not spread out into the neighborhoods where most residents live.

    In Whitman's time, too, the city was gritty. Philadelphians took a ferry across the Delaware River to get there and take advantage of more liberal liquor laws.

    "We don't want to hide anything from anybody. This is a city that has had its struggles," said John Seitter of the South Jersey Tourism Corporation. "That's really the Camden that Whitman knew. It was a glorified beer garden."

    The tours are guided by University of Pennsylvania graduate students in history who moonlight with Poor Richard's Walking Tours, which takes visitors on routes in nearby Philadelphia.

    Only three tours, which cost $30 per person, were initially scheduled for this year, but organizers hope they become a regular attraction and even part of the itinerary for Philadelphia-bound buses filled with tourists.

    The stops include Whitman's last home — now a carefully restored museum right across the street from the Camden County Jail — along with his tomb in a pastoral Victorian-era cemetery, the banks of the Delaware River and the Camden County Historical Society. There's also a visit with a Whitman impersonator who, during a preview tour in May, calmly read poems as police sirens from the inner city wailed in the distance.

    Guides delve into issues such as Whitman's sexuality (he had relationships with men, though he was sometimes coy about it) and explain how Victorian-era Americans considered cemeteries good spots for picnics.

    There's a refresher on Whitman's poems, which are often studied alongside those of his contemporaries in the transcendental movement, such as Emily Dickinson and Henry David Thoreau.

    And the guides talk about the daily life of the scruffy Whitman, who was a gregarious artist, hosting Oscar Wilde and painter Thomas Eakins at the wooden home where he lived his from 1884 until his death eight years later.

    Despite his famous visitors, Whitman's two-story wooden home a quarter-mile or so from the river was modest. Inside, it was hard to get around because his home was littered with piles of paper.

    Tour guide Kyle Feeley said that admirers in Britain, where Whitman was celebrated as America's first great poet even before he achieved that distinction in his home country, were disheartened to see that he lived so modestly.

    "He was so of the people," Feeley said. "If he actually lived the lifestyle that they wanted, he couldn't have written many of the poems he wrote."

    ___

    On the Net:

    http://www.visitsouthjersey.com/waltwhitmantour.asp.

  15. #45
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    Wow, I've never realized Camden was so down on it's luck. It would be good to see that city get back on it's feet. But what I wonder the most, will people visit Camden, even if that city turns around??

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