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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

My new neighborhood - Cooper Grant in Camden

In Kansas City I lived in a city of 500,000 and a neighborhood of 10,000. But I knew the people on my block and every day I ran into someone I knew, somewhere around town.

Camden is a city of 78,000 and my neighborhood is a few hundred - only because the only market rate apartment complex in the city is in my neighborhood. We had a block party over the holiday weekend and had a very nice turnout. The neighborhood is quite diverse - young, old, immigrant, Anglo, African-American, Camden natives, transplants (like me), Spanish speakers, Italian speakers, renters, homeowners, blue-collar, white-collar, and student. All this in about a six square block area! People wave, chat, honk, and generally feel good about this neighborhood, despite the urban challenges we face.

Camden as a whole is not as hospitable. The city is not very diverse (mostly hispanic and african-american) and very few white residents. The daytime population is centered near my neighborhood and is very white - US Courthouse, Rutgers, other schools, Campbell Soup company, hospitals, and a hi-tech manufacturer. But when the workday is done, my part of the city changes dramatically. Stores close up at 5 or 6pm - even the CVS! Traffic thins and pedestrians disappear. The streetcar train to Trenton takes the commuters away and comes much less frequently. Other parts of the city don't change nearly as much - daytime has a lot of people sitting on their porches and hanging on the street. At night the people go inside and the people hanging on the street are dealers and streetwalkers. But the shops stay open - particularly the food places. There is a grocery store on the side of town far from me, but it stays open at night. I've had simple advice from residents of all colors who are working professionals - don't drive through Camden at night. I have ignored this advice on a number of occasions but the drive can be daunting. Every day the newspapers remind us that Camden is the most dangerous city in the country - with a higher murder rate per 100,000 than Phily. I'm not sure I'm buying that factoid - because certainly NYC, Chicago, and even KC have a high number of homicides. KC is on a record setting pace this year, but so is Camden.

I don't know the city well enough yet to know where to avoid, how much fear is just hype, and what the streets are really like. The level of hysteria over the "eastside" in KC is laughable and I never worried about living or being there. But I spent time getting to know the area. I'll do the same here and figure it out. For now, I will enjoy my little neighborhood and city life.

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