Can Fish, Rock & Roll or Baseball Ever Save Camden, NJ?

The Voice of the Eye - Flickr

My foolish, unflagging love for a band that plays songs called "Fluffhead" and "You Enjoy Myself" led me to one of the most dangerous cities in America last Sunday.  Since I've taken a stroll through South Central LA and have spent a fair amount of time in the parts of Brooklyn that don't have gourmet dog pastry stores, I thought I would be somewhat prepared for what I would encounter in Camden, NJ.  Our group had printed out Google Map directions to the Susquehanna Bank Center, but after choosing the wrong exit for Route 30 and bending at the ibanker-in-the-car's uninformed insistence to follow the roads that an iPhone suggested, we found ourselves driving through the center of this fair hamlet.

You can only see so many consecutive, crumbling buildings and overgrown lots (the choicest surrounded by barbed wire) before getting the sense that New Jersey has given up on this place. Some Wikipedia research revealed that this isn't exactly the case.  In addition to building a concert ampitheatre, the last 20 years have seen investment in a waterfront aquarium and the creation of a minor league baseball team.

After paying Livenation $20 to park in an end-times airplane hangar we asked the parking attendant how long it usually takes to get out of the heavily packed lot after a show.  It was quite telling and sad to hear her say "Oh, I don't know.  I get out of here before the concert starts."  Her voice was less marked by summer job boredom and more by human survival instinct.

I don't pretend to have any answers, but rather I'm just intrigued by Camden as a case study of failed (or insanely slow) gentrification.  If these seemingly popular infrastructure ventures have not led to much positive growth in the surrounding non-waterfront community, what will help? Should stadiums and family event centers only be built after a struggling community gets the financial support to fix its core problems - joblessness, poverty, et. al?  Maybe these buildings shouldn't be Step #1.  Is it important to build these structures in areas that require one to drive through the city, rather than situate them near a highway entrance/exit?

Do you wait until Google deems the area safe enough to drive its Street View mapping car through, before breaking ground? (It's quite ironic that Camden hasn't been Street View'd yet, as it's one of the few places in America through which you'd actually need to take a virtual stroll before showing up.)

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