The Camden Cover
Once again, we highlight the good
By Marianne Aleardi

The first time we featured a Camden mayor on our cover it was 2014, and Dana Redd had just been re-elected to her second term. Camden was definitely a city in transition then. No one knew what was to come, but there was hope.         

I shared that hope, because I always thought Camden was unfairly characterized – not that the city didn’t have serious issues. It did. But it seemed like everyone wanted to point to all the problems, describe them in detail, and do nothing to help. It didn’t seem right.  

Around the same time, I had a parent ask if I was sending one of my daughters on an upcoming field trip, and when I questioned why she thought I might not, she leaned in and whispered, “It’s in Camden.” I was shocked and a little confused, because I was aware of the good happening in the city, and I was even more aware of the good people living there. I made a mental note that any time the magazine could spotlight something positive in Camden, we would do that. The hope was that people would start to view Camden differently, but even more important, they might be inspired to actively support the city.

So nearly a decade has passed, and we’re featuring another Camden mayor, Vic Carstarphen, on our cover. But this time, we aren’t talking about the promise of what might be if new changes succeed. We’re focusing on the success the city is seeing, and what great things are still to come. 

I wrote that first profile on Dana Redd after a 2-hour interview with her in her Camden office. I remember her passion as she described the dreams she had for the city where she was born and raised. It was impressive. I asked if she thought change could actually happen when there were so many problems, and some of those problems were enormous. She of course said things could get better, but when I left, I wondered if they could. I hoped so, but it was easy to see just how big the problems were. 

Over the years, we’ve all had a front row seat as people committed to Camden rolled up their sleeves, put their heads down, and got to work – every day. It was a team effort: Camden county commissioners, city council members, the police chief and police officers, the superintendent of schools and Camden teachers, administrators from the city’s hospitals and universities, along with business owners, church and civic leaders, and city residents united to do the work. They showed up to clean out parks and abandoned lots. They secured government funds to improve housing. They worked to get residents employed, and they improved city schools to better the education provided to their youth. Month after month, year after year, they did more and more. And we all started to see change.    

It’s a remarkable story, really. It isn’t often that progress is so clearly visible. But in this case, it is. Camden has the stats that show positive change (crime and unemployment are down, graduation rates are up). And you can drive around the city – or even better, go there for dinner – and see the development firsthand. 

But as Mayor Carstarphen will tell you, there is still a lot to do. Because while much has improved, much could be better. All of those people committed to Camden know that, and they still believe improvements can happen. So they continue to do the incredible work that has already brought substantial results. 

In this month’s cover story, Mayor Carstarphen says, “When Camden is in a good space, South Jersey is in a good space.” That might be why all of us at SJ Mag are eager to highlight the city, and why we are placing a Camden mayor on the cover for a second time – because it helps us all. Camden, and the people who live there, are our neighbors. 

As the saying goes, Camden is on the rise. It has been for some time now. Isn’t it wonderful that something so great is happening for our South Jersey neighbor?

Read more “Wide Awake” by Marianne Aleardi

April 2023
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