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The Sorrows of Camden
December 13, 2013 1:53 AM   Subscribe

Apocalypse, New Jersey Matt Taibi looks at the sad story of Camden, N.J.
posted by angrycat (68 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Walt Whitman is buried deep in Camden, New Jersey.
posted by pracowity at 2:44 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rutgers Camden Assistant Professor Stephen Danley has read Taibbi's article, and he's not happy about it:
Rolling Stone's article is just the latest example of the national media obsession with using Camden [as poverty porn]. Sooner or later, every national publication comes to Camden to do their story on poverty and violence. Brian Williams did his special. The Nation titled its expose City in Ruins. And now the Rolling Stone. The constant stream of pictures of addicts shooting up is almost impossible to look away from. It drives voyeuristic clicks, while feeding local despair.

The article, he writes, is just another "manifestation of the deep historical pattern of outsiders using Camden to the detriment of the city." Of course, he doesn't say where he's from and why he's not just another privileged outsider looking to use Camden for his own ends. (Danley holds a DPhil from Nuffield College, Oxford, by the way.) And his anger that Taibbi, in his sensationalism, overlooked the positive, self-organizing aspects of Camden culture does rather beg the question. If it's Camden's "resilience" and the ability of its residents to mobilize from within that should be the real story here, why does the city still have such awful, outsize health, crime, and poverty statistics? And how does painting the city as a righteous victim of various injustices imposed by elite "outsiders" (as the Maryland-born Oxford and Penn grad Danley does), help those same Camdenites feel any sense of historical agency?
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:10 AM on December 13, 2013 [13 favorites]


My wife is from one of the nearby towns contrasted to Camden in the article. I've been through the city, but I've never stopped in it, except to visit a relative at the major hospital. There used to be a block of row houses visible from the Speed Line into Philadelphia that were in such bad shape that the back walls had fallen off some of the units. Some of the tiny back yards were piles of bricks. And yet there were people living in the adjacent units. I was aghast and angry the first time I saw it-- the conditions were absolutely third-world. A year or so ago the whole block was demolished.

It's also amazing to think of how quickly the city declined. My wife's paternal grandmother was born in Philadelphia, but her family moved to Camden in the late 30s and that was considered serious social progress. Her other grandmother, born and raised in another streetcar suburb, used to go into Camden to shop in the downtown department stores for special occasions-- a dress coat, an Easter dress, that sort of thing. Looking at the city now, those ideas are inconceivable.

I saw this article a couple days ago and shared it with my wife and mother-in-law, who both found it fascinating.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:20 AM on December 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Somalia is hereby put on notice that there's now a new libertarian utopia; a more authentically American one.
posted by acb at 3:51 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd go with:

Somalia is hereby put on notice that there's now a new anarchist utopia; a more authentically American one.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 3:58 AM on December 13, 2013


The constant stream of pictures of addicts shooting up is almost impossible to look away from.

And yet, there are no such pictures in Taibbi's article, nor does he even mention such an event. The professor apparently doesn't want anyone discussing these things, for some reason.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:02 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


well, there was that lady who may or may not have been looking for chicken
posted by angrycat at 4:16 AM on December 13, 2013


If you've never been to Camden, remember the "Two Americas" post a couple weeks ago? Camden is like Baltimore as portrayed in the Wire, except without the police and legitimate jobs.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:18 AM on December 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


That lady looking for chicken was not described as shooting up. She was described as under the influence, but that's not what the professor is whining about.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:21 AM on December 13, 2013


One night last year, some friends and I went into Camden to see an orchestral warm-up. Then we went to a bar and had a few beers. Then we walked a mile back to the train station, alone, at something like 11 at night.

Those of us who knew Camden's reputation pretty much made a decision not to tell the rest of our group about Camden's reputation. We were worried that any visible signs of freak-outs would lead to ungood things. I still don't think my girlfriend's forgiven me entirely for that one.

When you go to a concert there, they keep cop cars at literally every street intersection in a 10x10 grid. I wonder if they import the cops from elsewhere? You certainly don't see 'me in Camden at any other time of day.
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:22 AM on December 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


The thing that's in the subtext but not explicitly confronted, is the evil of Christie's maneuver. So it was successful in breaking the impasse of an ossified and too-expensive police force and producing an eventual police reorganization and new funding and techniques that, clearly work.

All it took was basically throwing the entire fucking city to the wolves for a couple of years.

How many lives did that cost? The moral depravity of that solution is staggering; and that's not even accounting for the real possibility that his main goal was a win over a union and actually producing a better police force was just a bonus.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:25 AM on December 13, 2013 [20 favorites]


When you go to a concert there, they keep cop cars at literally every street intersection in a 10x10 grid.

I used to go clubbing in southeast DC in the mid 90s when the crack epidemic was still going strong. It was the same way. Cops every street corner around the clubs, and if you wandered off into the wrong block (and were white), they'd pull you over and send you back.
posted by empath at 4:27 AM on December 13, 2013


The thing that's in the subtext but not explicitly confronted, is the evil of Christie's maneuver. So it was successful in breaking the impasse of an ossified and too-expensive police force and producing an eventual police reorganization and new funding and techniques that, clearly work.

All it took was basically throwing the entire fucking city to the wolves for a couple of years.


And even so, what's really left? There seems to be little besides policing and the drug markets going on there economically. It's not as if the city has its tax base back or a strong (legitimate) employment base.

What exactly does "taking back North Camden" mean? Taking it back for whom, from whom? I don't get the sense that it's being taken back for the Bryan Mortons.
posted by kewb at 4:39 AM on December 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wonder if they import the cops from elsewhere? You certainly don't see 'me in Camden at any other time of day.

My understanding via my mother-in-law (so, second-hand) is that Camden County has basically pooled police resources. Assuming she's correct, those cops probably have a regular beat in an entirely different municipality and get reassigned to Camden for events.

Acknowledging that police resources are finite, that's actually a pretty smart idea. The downside I can see is that if it's not random or if there are leaks, it would theoretically be possible for organized individuals to determine where police presence would be lacking.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:42 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


sorta related: Camden's financial record keeping and documentation are so bad and full of holes that auditors haven't been able to render an opinion on their financial statements for several years.
posted by jpe at 4:46 AM on December 13, 2013


Kirth Gerson: And yet, there are no such pictures in Taibbi's article, nor does he even mention such an event. The professor apparently doesn't want anyone discussing these things, for some reason.

The professor seems to be borrowing a page from Detroit. Every time a news outlet does a "look at this shithole!" piece on Detroit, there are always laments that the new flickers of life are ignored in favor of photographing the abandoned factory down the street in order to preserve their pre-conceived narrative.

Camden doesn't seem to have a softer side to fall back on in order to make that same argument work.
posted by dr_dank at 4:50 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


MayorCurley:
They started a (nominally) county-wide police force, but its opt-in, and only the city of camden participates. No other town wants to have anything to do with sharing policing with the city of camden. It was used as a way to dissolve the city police force, its leadership & union.
posted by TheAdamist at 5:11 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think the Professor's complaint stems from the genuine understanding that stories about the urban apocalypse are part of how it becomes politically acceptable to "[throw] the entire fucking city to the wolves for a few years" and then swoop in with a massive, non-community-based police force and declare oneself a hero.

There's a real and understandable fear that African-American and Hispanic communities are always narratives of an urban failure state from the white middle-class perspective, rather than stories about what the residents value or hope for in their communities.

However, Taibbi's story avoids a lot of those pitfalls, and Camden's population loss demonstrates the depth of the damage to community caused by an earlier, more insidious sort of devaluation and abandonment. In any case, packaging and disseminating stories of local self-determination and community values in a place already narrated as a "feral city" -- another awful term whose currency has thankfully declined -- often ends up as a different sort of curatorial neoliberalism.
posted by kewb at 5:13 AM on December 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's also amazing to think of how quickly the city declined.

My grandparents lived in Camden for a few years before my father was born. My dad has been painstakingly archiving all of my grandfather's photographs and other memories, and so he has a lot of pictures my grandfather took of their house there and some of the neighborhood. Camden used to look like Leave It To Beaver as far as I can tell.

I grew up in Camden County and it was always a little shocking to go to Camden for whatever reason. Basically the entire county is middle- and upper-middle class suburban sprawl... and then you go to Camden. It's this weird oasis of blight amongst the gentry.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:24 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I take a bus to work in the white flight burbs of Camden. When I get on in Philly I'm typically one of the first three people there. The real crowd arrives in downtown Camden. My bus is often packed to capacity leaving Camden, dropping people off at hotels, big box stores, and small offices out in the sprawl.

There is a bit of a 'soft side' to Camden in the developed waterfront areas that Rory Marinich alludes to: the outdoor concert venue, the baseball stadium, the aquarium. But admission to those places is expensive, they don't provide a ton of jobs, and the jobs they do provide are largely seasonal.

So if you're living in Camden and you don't have a car to get to work, odds are you're riding a bus like mine. Except these buses are hella expensive, and the jobs they take you to aren't going to pay as well or be as stable as the factory jobs that haven't existed in forever. It wouldn't surprise me if you actually lose money doing a long haul bus commute to a minimum wage job. No wonder the drug trade looks so appealing and gets so entrenched.

I realize that Camden has a huge and problematic drug trade, but focusing in on that so heavily here feels...weirdly othering. Like it's something your average Rolling Stone reader can see and think 'gee, I'm glad I don't live there, that sounds so scary and dangerous.' But I'd argue that the people riding my bus to their low-paying jobs are representative of Camden too. It's just that the problems they represent--shrinking city tax bases, the movement of jobs to increasingly far-flung burbs, stagnant wages , increased job precariousness--are way bigger than Camden alone, and that's too frightening for a lot of people to contemplate.
posted by ActionPopulated at 5:28 AM on December 13, 2013 [13 favorites]


This is the yuppiest thing that you will ever hear in your life, but the best sushi that I have ever had in the US was in Camden, NJ. My in-laws turned me on to it.

What are some larger lessons we can take away from places like Camden and Detroit? When do cities reach that tipping point, where the decline turns into a tailspin? Has any city ever recovered from something like that?

My takeaway is that places like Camden are object lessons in what happens when those with power have misaligned and/or perverse incentives, and there are no counterbalancing forces. As Camden became more of a liability, there became less and less incentive to help out Camden. "I'll be gone, you'll be gone." And then when all that's left is unemployment, there's never any incentive to steer away from the underground economy.

I'm not sure if it was ever on the same scale, or if it ever had the potential to be on the same scale, but my sorta-hometown of Schenectady[1] seems comparable. Schenectady used to be Electric City. Then it became an unemployment-ridden, crime-ridden Rust Belt dump with legendary levels of police corruption and a mockingly elaborate, blinking GE sign and a Ryan Gosling movie about its decadence.

Are we back to The Way We Were? No, but, my impression is that it's been getting better. My understanding was that cooperation with the state government, the federal government, and key corporate partners have helped Schenectady back from the edge. Proximity to Albany no doubt helped.

[1] Weirdly enough, according to Google Maps, my hometown was Schenectady, even though that's not true. I guess there were too many interlocking towns and villages and hamlets for Google to put up with anything more specific.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:29 AM on December 13, 2013


There's a real and understandable fear that African-American and Hispanic communities are always narratives of an urban failure state from the white middle-class perspective, rather than stories about what the residents value or hope for in their communities.

There was, but now that the white middle class can't find enough properties to buy up in what had become African-American and Hispanic communities after the flight of the 60's, that sense seems to have reversed. Now the fear is that they will be marginalized by being shoved out.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:29 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've ranted about this before, but it seems all the more apt here:

Municipal corporate personhood is the ultimate culprit here. In America, municipalities are corporations, and are obligated to compete with their neighbors for resources.

What inevitably happens is that the rich cluster in small cities near larger cities, and use municipal borders to keep their high per-capita tax dollars going toward their own needs.

Check out richblockspoorblock.com

The interface only allows you to view one state at a time, which is tricky because Camden rests on a state line. But if you look at both Camden and Philly and their surrounding areas, you can clearly see the results of white flight. And all those little municipalities surrounding the poverty in Camden and Philly are doing every thing they can to make sure none of their money goes anywhere near poor people.

The law that prevents New Jersey schools from having unequal spending per pupil is a start toward a better way of doing things, but it still isn't fair: poor kids actually need more spending per pupil to counteract all sorts of environmental disadvantages.

What I really want to know is: who's profiting from Camden? Who's trying to profit from Camden? Are people land-banking, hoping that if it gets bad enough, drastic eminent domain measures will lead to a payday? The people of Camden don't own the real estate there. Who does, and why are they not motivated to create change, simply in the interest of their own profit?

We're led to believe this disaster happened organically, I'm skeptical.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 5:30 AM on December 13, 2013 [17 favorites]


And yet, there are no such pictures in Taibbi's article, nor does he even mention such an event. The professor apparently doesn't want anyone discussing these things, for some reason.

It seems particularly odd as a criticism to level at Matt Taibbi, who has been pretty frank before about his own history as a heroin addict.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 5:35 AM on December 13, 2013


Yeah Camden's bad off, and has been for the 20-odd years I've lived in the Philly area, and the stadium and other venues have done little to improve the bleak jobs and income situation. And that's the problem, folks. Not police. Not drugs. Jobs & money. These things are symptoms of the lack of economic opportunity in Camden. I occasionally ride the PATCO rail line to/from Philly (my company has an office in Camden County), and very few people get OFF in Camden, but tons get ON. As mentioned upthread, almost no on is going to Camden, a sizable city, for work; many people from Camden head into Philly or farther out to the office parks of the suburbs. The only sizable employers left are Cooper hospital, the entertainment venues, and the ever-decreasing Campbell's operation.
posted by Mister_A at 5:45 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


There was, but now that the white middle class can't find enough properties to buy up in what had become African-American and Hispanic communities after the flight of the 60's, that sense seems to have reversed. Now the fear is that they will be marginalized by being shoved out.

I don't think that's actually a reversal; both gentrification and abandonment rely on the underlying narrative that Those Places can't be salvaged because they're inhabited by Those People. Whether the white middle class discards minority populations by economic and socially abandoning them or by flooding them out with a torrent of money, the end result is the same.

Christie's actions are a perfect example of the underlying identity of the argument that Camden should be abandoned and the argument that the community should be dissolved so all that nice real estate and infrastructural base can fall into the hands of the Right People.

Really, you need both halves of the narrative. You abandon a population so you can buy it out; the population gets priced and forced out into the next area that's been or is being abandoned; the cycle repeats. When the process starts to run out of space, it either pours the surplus labor the prison-industrial complex or the real-estate bubble bursts.
posted by kewb at 5:46 AM on December 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


Yeah listen, moneyed white people buying land in Camden isn't going to save the place, for any reasonable definition of 'save'. And what's happened to Camden isn't some grand 50-year plan to snap up real estate; it's basic racial fears playing out once again as economically catastrophic ghettoization. No one's making money off this situation except the prison-industrial complex.
posted by Mister_A at 5:58 AM on December 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Acknowledging that police resources are finite, that's actually a pretty smart idea. The downside I can see is that if it's not random or if there are leaks, it would theoretically be possible for organized individuals to determine where police presence would be lacking.

You don't even need to be organized. There are neighborhoods that get that kind of intense policing, and neighborhoods where you are lucky if a 911 call even gets answered. Everyone who lives there will know which is which.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:59 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Camden has its waterfront attractions -- the Aquarium, the Large Concert Venue Named After Whichever Bank Is Currently Dominant, a minor-league baseball team, etc. These are not Camden. These are a mole growing on adjacent Philadelphia, and as others have noted, their security do their best to insulate suburban visiting sheep from local wolves.

Now, are parts of inner Camden a no-man's land? Absolutely. But it's not just a Camden thing. Look across the river and there are parts of Philadelphia I wouldn't travel through (much less stop in) without a team of armed Sherpas backing me up. Nearby Chester, PA is the Pennsylvania Camden, right down to the well-insulated tourist attraction and the refusal of supermarket chains to open there.

Every major metropolitan area has its Places Where You Do Not Go. Camden is merely the most flagrant in its region.
posted by delfin at 6:02 AM on December 13, 2013


I don't think that's actually a reversal; both gentrification and abandonment rely on the underlying narrative that Those Places can't be salvaged because they're inhabited by Those People.

That might have been so with the abandonment of the inner cities, but the latest wave of "gentrification" (how I hate that racist term) is driven by people seeking ammenities and diversity only available in cities. The misconception and racism comes in when people assume that there is some sort of "Plan" or conspiracy to push people out and that is not the actual case. In Camden's case however, people are not moving in seeking ammenities and diversity, they are buying up distressed real estate at rock bottom prices figuring that eventually the bottom will completely drop out and the property will regain value when developers bulldoze what is left and build new planned communities on what once was.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:07 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm more scared of Chester than Camden, mostly because I know my way around Camden better.
posted by Mister_A at 6:08 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


At least Camden is mostly a grid. A grid of bombed out square blocks, but a grid.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:14 AM on December 13, 2013


Municipal corporate personhood is the ultimate culprit here. In America, municipalities are corporations, and are obligated to compete with their neighbors for resources.

I'm not clear what you're trying to say here. "Corporation", in the municipal context, has a fairly anodyne meaning. A municipal corporation is not like a for-profit corporation. A municipal corporation is "incorporated" in the sense that it is the legally recognized governing body of a municipality, in contrast to a town (etc.) being an unincorporated area governed by something else.

There is no blanket rule stating that it is more or less fair for people to live in municipalities or unincorporated areas. Municipal governments can be excellent at providing for their residents, just as unincorporated areas can be poorly-administered, and vice versa all around.

I mean, hell, you could look at NYC as a microcosm of this kind of thing. Compare the city itself with the (incorporated) boroughs/counties it comprises, and compare those boroughs with the (unincorporated) neighborhoods they comprise. Would things be better if the boroughs were dissolved into a Total New York City? Would New York City be better off it was dissolved into an unincorporated area of New York State? Would East New York be better able to compete for resources if it had to form and fund its own local government? This gets complicated very quickly.

Either way, a municipality would be under no more obligation to "compete" for its neighbors' resources than an unincorporated area would. It's just that a municipality would be potentially better-organized at doing so. Even then, even once we start talking about corruption, "bad actors" would typically rather stay in the relative shadows while guiding controlled officials, regardless of whether there is a discrete, legally recognized governing body. A bad actor in an unincorporated area would just try to control somebody further up the management chain.

NB: Those with an interest in city incorporation should check out Season 2 of Veronica Mars!
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:17 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah Camden's bad off, and has been for the 20-odd years I've lived in the Philly area, and the stadium and other venues have done little to improve the bleak jobs and income situation. And that's the problem, folks. Not police. Not drugs. Jobs & money.

Camden and other abandoned urban centers are evidence that the former policy of ignoring black on black crime -- that is, doing nothing at all to help a community mired in violence if there are no white people in it -- has graduated to doing nothing at all to help a community mired in violence if there are no rich people in it.

This attitude extends much further into our society. When I read something questioning why healthcare and education in America are so expensive and performing so poorly compared to other nations, few have the courage to admit that we just don't give a damn about the working classes. America throws people away so the wealthy can have more money, either by destroying unions, outsourcing jobs (with tax breaks for doing so), or the consistent erosion of basic services that act as a bludgeon to the livelihood of anyone living on the edge. We keep pushing people off the cliff, and blaming them for being subject to gravity.

You can have the best teachers and the best schools and the best doctors and the best hospitals, but if a significant portion of your society can't find a job, a safe home, or afford transportation, it won't make a difference. It can't. As this creeps into higher income brackets, and as the hole gets bigger and bigger, people start turning against each other. The greed of the aristocratic class is unlimited, and the size of our economy is not.

That doesn't even touch our brutal incarceration system:
Among African-Americans who have grown up during the era of mass incarceration, one in four has had a parent locked up at some point during childhood. For black men in their 20s and early 30s without a high school diploma, the incarceration rate is so high — nearly 40 percent nationwide — that they’re more likely to be behind bars than to have a job.
Racism has softened into classism, but that doesn't make the senselessness and cruelty of our society much better.
posted by deanklear at 6:36 AM on December 13, 2013 [23 favorites]


it's basic racial fears playing out once again as economically catastrophic ghettoization

people get hung up on racism as some essential factor, but what happened was that at the moment the people who run america decided to liquidate american industries wholesale (there's a whole list of things no longer manufactured in the US) a wedge was decisively applied between the white and black working classes. suburban white flight wasn't some organic process, it was engineered.

(as a side note, there is a huge econometric problem with talking about american manufacturing using the data as it's usually presented, since it is stated in terms of dollars of output. so, on the one hand you can say: "look, we actually don't build civilian commercial ships in the US anymore" and on the other hand "manufacturing output is the highest it's ever been!" and then make phony claims that the decline in employment is a function of productivity advances...)

but it's like cutting off the hand that offends you. there are places like Camden all over the US, white and black, and everyone is going around pretending that the fact that we are collectively missing a hand is just a problem we can calmly debate rather than a crisis. and that "missing hand" stands in for millions of lives that have been in crisis for two generations now. but Reagan, at least, proved that all of those lives are disposable. Clinton affirmed it with a shiny prosperity gospel sheen. And now everyone is just scared it could happen to me, ME!
posted by ennui.bz at 6:47 AM on December 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Everybody wants freedom, but when they see what unfettered freedom looks like, they run away screaming
posted by Renoroc at 6:51 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is the yuppiest thing that you will ever hear in your life, but the best sushi that I have ever had in the US was in Camden, NJ. My in-laws turned me on to it.

Dollars to donuts you're talking about Sagami, which is not located in Camden, but Collingswood.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:58 AM on December 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I should add also that I have heard some of my co-workers sat outright that they avoid a particular local upscale mall because it's too close to a bus stop and therefore attracts 'an element' from Camden. That was heir exact wording--an element. God forbid there be brown people in your shopping spaces who don't work there.

There are plenty of people in the rest of Camden County who would be perfectly content to physically cut the city off from the county and watch it die its final death. They might even enjoy the spectacle. 'Poverty porn' writing just reinforces the idea that these areas are totally intractable. I'm not saying there's a quick fix for the violence--undoing the consequences of neoliberalism is damn hard--but systematically writing off a whole city sure isn't it.
posted by ActionPopulated at 7:05 AM on December 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


(i think part of the answer to the econometric mysteries of american manufacturing is that, to my untrained eye, an enormous percentage of the total manufacturing output is made up by pharmaceuticals and aerospace. That is, pharma and boeing make products with an extremely high "value-added" to the raw materials. In particular, you could argue that the value added to pharma products is largely the result of patent protections and inflation in the health care industry. But, either way, I think it shows you how waving around the total output charts and saying US manufacturing is fine are selling bullshit. on the other hand, you could say that pursuing the highest value added product is what capitalism is all about... but, like I mentioned with pharma, "value" can be sort of a rigged game)
posted by ennui.bz at 7:08 AM on December 13, 2013


FTA:

"Lutz spots a white girl sitting on a brick wall ringing the Northgate 1 parking lot, wobbling, then suddenly falling backward over onto her head....
About 85 percent of the heroin customers in this city are like this: young, white and from the suburbs."

How does Taibbi know that this girl is from the suburbs?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:30 AM on December 13, 2013


pursuing the highest value added product is what capitalism is all about

indeed
posted by larry_darrell at 7:32 AM on December 13, 2013


people get hung up on racism as some essential factor, but what happened was that at the moment the people who run america decided to liquidate american industries wholesale (there's a whole list of things no longer manufactured in the US) a wedge was decisively applied between the white and black working classes.

You're neglecting the intersectionality of racism with the disparate impacts and community responses that are part of this "wedge." Put another way, racism isn't about individual of even small-group intentions so much as it reflects structural biases and deeply ingrained assumptions that are often experienced only semiconsciously.
posted by kewb at 8:05 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


How does Taibbi know that this girl is from the suburbs?

He says a couple other people are also from the suburbs. Maybe he asked them. He's a reporter. They ask questions. And the cops also ask a lot of questions. The cop Taibbi was with seemed to know where she was from and whether she was walking towards or away from home.
posted by pracowity at 8:15 AM on December 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Still reading the article, but the laws related to urban school funding were modified back by Governor Corzine, reducing state payouts to the schools who had long received payments. I get an article has to make cuts, but Taibbi kind of glosses over this recent history of the Abbot rulings in the article. I've long thought that Christie didn't immediately target these schools because he knew the cuts Corzine made would have a crippling effect on the schools.
posted by lownote at 8:29 AM on December 13, 2013


I live in Collingswood, less than half a mile from Camden. We have a nice little suburban area with a bustling downtown, yet if you cross over Route 130 into Camden it's a shell-shocked, high crime area in a permanent depression. Then you hit the other side and the waterfront, which is a weird little bubble isolated from the rest of the city, but was sold as the thing that would revitalize Camden. It hasn't; I had a coworker who lived there for a year and it was just - a bubble.

Taibbi seems totally ignorant of Camden. He doesn't mention the waterfront or any of the other things that have been tried; he doesn't mention the corruption and the string of mayors who wound up in prison, or the state takeover of the city government and the schools. It's all about the police, as if you could fix the structural problems with Camden by policing.

My dad's parents lived in Camden, but that was over 60 years ago. It was an immigrant hub in South Jersey, with lots of Italian and Polish and Jewish people who by some mystic process became "white" and moved to the suburbs. My grandfather lived for over 50 years in Bellmawr. Camden was given up on by many of those people, but not all.

Camden also has Sacred Heart Catholic Church - the parish of Fr. Michael Doyle, one of the Camden 28 who were arrested protesting the Vietnam War. Fascinating story.

It's hard to get at a solution for Camden, because it's just a place where our society has totally failed. Capitalism built it and then abandoned it - it's a sign of what can happen to a city in a lifetime. But I don't think that all the cops in the world could even make a dent in the problems Camden has.
posted by graymouser at 8:38 AM on December 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


Yeah anyone reading that article would be ignorant of two very important things: that there are a lot of hospitals in Camden and that there are lofts where affluent white people live.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:44 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't know very much about Camden, but I do think comparing it to Detroit is inaccurate, and not very useful. It's more like Gary, IN or East St. Louis, IL. In a lot of ways, I think solving these cities' problems is even harder than solving the problems of a Detroit.
posted by breakin' the law at 9:02 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Planted on the backs of a fleet of new cruisers are Minority Report-style scanners that read license plates and automatically generate warning letters to send to your mom in the suburbs if you've been spotted taking the Volvo registered in her name to score a bag of Black Magic on 7th and Vine.

This is not what I want the police to be.......
posted by lstanley at 9:20 AM on December 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, Detroit's problems will almost certainly be fixed with time and *crosses self to inoculate against the snarkers* the free market. It's a strategically-located large city with established infrastructure, strong local culture, a massively-important (albeit diminished) local industry, an educated workforce - I could go on.

Drive around downtown Detroit and you'll see apartment buildings advertising that they're a quarter of the price of living in Brooklyn. Seriously. You've got beautiful old houses, in near-perfect condition, selling for $10k-$20k. Yes, it's a risk to buy that house given the poor state of municipal government and the fact that the cops won't come for an hour if you need them, but people are taking that risk as we speak. Give it 20 years and the dense parts of that city will be totally gentrified (and, since the city is so huge and empty now, it'll involve very little displacement of anyone else, I'm willing to bet.). Say what you will about Detroit, but it generally doesn't feel "dead", blocks where there's nothing but one or two empty houses aside.

Camden and Gary and East St. Louis and the like are different cases where there seems to be no more raison d'etre for the city itself. I've been to Gary. The whole place feels sad, and dead, like there's no longer any reason for it to exist. You never get that feeling in Detroit, much like I imagine you never got it in 1970's-era NYC, as rough as that town was.
posted by downing street memo at 9:21 AM on December 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's a strategically-located large city

I think to qualify as strategically located in 2014 you have to be on a massive salt water port, have oil and/or rare earths, and/or be in Guangdong Province.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:43 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Southeast Michigan was Guangdong before Guangdong was Guangdong. The industrial capacity in the area is enormous, and when rising shipping and Chinese labor costs start to eat into the advantages to outsourcing, I wouldn't be surprised to see a limited boom in manufacturing in the area.
posted by downing street memo at 9:50 AM on December 13, 2013


Your view of Detroit is slightly rosier than reality, downing street memo. Yes, apartments in the downtown area are cheaper than many neighborhoods in Brooklyn, but I don't know that the lack of services is worth it. You certainly cannot get 'beautiful old homes in near perfect condition' for those price. If they are beautiful and near-perfect, they're going for at least 80-100K, even the ones in marginal neighborhoods. The 10-20K homes are generally large renovation jobs in poor neighborhoods with not-great housing stock. And there's literally hundreds of blocks where there's only one or two empty houses.

That said, Detroit is in far better position than Camden, Gary, or other former industrial powerhouses because of the size of the city and the apparent mystique of our decay. We certainly have to deal with our share of problematic out-of-town opinions about what it's really like here (a lot of hippie-dippy/anarcho-capitalist/libertarian types think they can just come and set up shop and it'll be peaches and cream) but frankly I would rather deal with that than have to compete for people's attention.

I think to qualify as strategically located in 2014 you have to be on a massive salt water port, have oil and/or rare earths, and/or be in Guangdong Province.

Give it a few years, we've got all the freshwater in the world and virtually no chance of natural disasters.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 9:52 AM on December 13, 2013


The whole place feels sad, and dead, like there's no longer any reason for it to exist.

Yeah, that nails how it feels like when you're driving down the streets in Camden. It's just stunning that we're right next to it and it's literally a different world once you cross Route 130.

The area around Camden isn't economically depressed, that's the crazy-making thing. It's not a gradual decline, you have Cherry Hill and Haddonfield right over there. Economically it's less of a hill leading into a valley, and more like a cliff. There are jobs - but you have to be able to drive to them. The buses around here go to shopping malls. Even Route 130 is 3 busy lanes each way. Camden is, in a very real way, 80,000 people locked out of the world around them.
posted by graymouser at 9:56 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


If they are beautiful and near-perfect, they're going for at least 80-100K, even the ones in marginal neighborhoods.

Well, alright. I guess my point is that's still like a tenth of the price of an equivalent house in DC or NYC, and for probably a better quality of life to boot. I'm considering leaving my high-stress career field in a few years, have spent significant time in Detroit, and I don't think it'd be a terrible thing to leave my city, buy a house there, and do much more of what I actually want to do in life. I can't imagine that I'm the only person in the world thinking along these lines.

I mean maybe I'll never do it, and it's just an escape fantasy. But I don't think anyone's dreaming of escaping to Camden or East St. Louis.
posted by downing street memo at 10:06 AM on December 13, 2013


But I don't think anyone's dreaming of escaping to Camden or East St. Louis.

You'd be wrong.

Camden is perfectly located, way more so than Detroit. Philly is less than a mile away. Beautiful downtown Collingswood, also a mile away. Its also on prime waterfront property. Beautiful views of the Philly skyline. Etc. Etc. Etc.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:11 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Detroit's problems will almost certainly be fixed with time and *crosses self to inoculate against the snarkers* the free market. It's a strategically-located large city with established infrastructure, strong local culture, a massively-important (albeit diminished) local industry, an educated workforce - I could go on.

The free market has led to a child poverty rate in Detroit of over 50%. It has dropped the median income in that city from 30k to 25k in just four years, from 2007 to 2011. Now the free market is trying to gut (or maybe it already has) about three billion dollars in pensions that would go to supporting the local economy.

The Winnipeg model could save Detroit, but that is the opposite of the free market: people in government making sensible policy choices for the betterment of society, irregardless of a profit model for a tiny slice of our population that already has so much money that they don't know what to do with it.

The free market doesn't have to value human life. We do. Or at least we should.
posted by deanklear at 10:13 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's funny, if I ever moved back east I would probably opt to live in a Camden-type place. I can deal with the crime + lack of muni services, but being a couple train rides away from places like Philly and NYC would be awesome. I guess the tall, unkempt grass is always greener on the other side.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 10:13 AM on December 13, 2013


Southeast Michigan was Guangdong before Guangdong was Guangdong.

Sure it was, and before that it was New England, and before that it was the dark satanic mills of old England. That doesn't mean that some former milltown in Western Mass or some massive row of Council houses in Manchester are going to suddenly blossom into the next big boom town. When was the last time there was a boom time in Cyprus? 300 BC? You may be waiting a while for that revitalization to come along.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:15 AM on December 13, 2013


That's funny, if I ever moved back east I would probably opt to live in a Camden-type place. I can deal with the crime + lack of muni services, but being a couple train rides away from places like Philly and NYC would be awesome. I guess the tall, unkempt grass is always greener on the other side.

See, I really see Baltimore as the "Detroit of the east", insofar as such a comparison could ever be valid. Distinct local culture, multiple (and excellent) cultural institutions, a strong art and music scene, cheap cost of living because of the general machinations of capital in the last 30-40 years, and a short train ride from cities that recent years have been kinder to.

Obviously, it's got lots of decay as well. But it isn't dead, and you can lead a very rich life staying within the bounds of the city itself.

The free market has led to a child poverty rate in Detroit of over 50%. It has dropped the median income in that city from 30k to 25k in just four years, from 2007 to 2011. Now the free market is trying to gut (or maybe it already has) about three billion dollars in pensions that would go to supporting the local economy.

I think you've confused me with someone who's suggested that a free market is a panacea? Rather, what I said is that I think the city will repopulate on its own, by people - artists, entrepreneurs, etc. - leaving east coast cities and San Francisco seeking lower costs of living.
posted by downing street memo at 10:23 AM on December 13, 2013


Yeah, Detroit's problems will almost certainly be fixed with time and *crosses self to inoculate against the snarkers* the free market.

That's what you said
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:30 AM on December 13, 2013


Detroit's problems stem, almost entirely, from depopulation (and yes, obviously, the depopulation has complex causes itself). I'm suggesting the city will be repopulated thanks to the dynamic I described above, and therefore, there's a good chance that many of its problems are "fixed" in the long run.
posted by downing street memo at 10:34 AM on December 13, 2013


you're neglecting the intersectionality of racism with the disparate impacts and community responses that are part of this "wedge." Put another way, racism isn't about individual of even small-group intentions so much as it reflects structural biases and deeply ingrained assumptions that are often experienced only semiconsciously.

but that's my point. you can get as deep as you want and find racism at the heart of US society, but what happened to Camden is the absolute liquation of manufacturing employment in the 70s and 80s, which was the direct result of the destruction of organised labor as a political force at the end of the Vietnam war and the civil rights era. which itself was built on the political and economic agreements which built post wwii America. the point being that business liquidated whole industries with impunity so that now we have an economy based on liquidating capital (mergers, acquisitions, downsizing, outsourcing) and collecting rents on capital (wall street).

all of this was based on the canny use of race and class to fracture the labor movement, by the elites who run this country, not the inexorable effect of racism in our souls.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:46 AM on December 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


the direct result of the destruction of organised labor as a political force

Ah, but you left off that much of that destruction came at the hands of organized labor itself when it sided with Nixon and Reagan despite their own better interests.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:50 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


About ten years ago I worked roadside assistance for a company like AAA and learned that if your car breaks down in Camden on 676 or 30, you might as well have another car ram you and push it all the way across the bridge into Philly because no tow driver wanted anything to do with Camden.

"My driver'd be coming out of Philly and he'd have to turn around to get where your guy's at," a dispatcher once told me.

"So what's the problem? My guy's on the highway shoulder."

"My driver would have to get off the highway. Trust me, hon, you do not want to stop on a surface street in Camden."

I found tows at night for people who had no idea where they were ("There's lots of trees around... they're mostly evergreens if that helps"), I found tows for RVs with broken axles in the middle of the desert, but the toughest time I ever had was trying to get a tow truck to go to a city right across the river from Philadelphia in broad daylight.
posted by Spatch at 12:22 PM on December 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


I was visiting a friend in New Jersey just a couple towns over from there years ago. At some point, we ended up going to a party of a friend of hers who lived in Camden. Being from Oregon, it seemed a bit.. post apocalyptic, but I still felt relatively safe. When we got to the party, I asked where the beer store was so I may purchase libations.

"There's one at the end of the block, I'll give you a ride." the hostess tells me.

"That's cool, I can walk." I sort of half chuckle.

"No, you can't." she firmly let me know.
posted by mediocre at 12:35 PM on December 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


So Cristie basically let the whole thing go to shit, and then swooped in with his new high-tech law enforcement plan that coincidentally also demolished the existing police force? That's just some ED-209s short of the plan from RoboCop.
posted by ckape at 4:22 PM on December 13, 2013


>That's just some ED-209s short of the plan from RoboCop.

IF ONLY it was so well thought out... And there was the actual possibility of getting some enforcement droids.
posted by mikelieman at 4:55 PM on December 13, 2013


Camden: the place where Philadelphia felons Do Not Go.

"Camden?"

*blank stare*

*lonnnnnng pause*

"Naw, man. Can't fuck with Camden."
posted by jason's_planet at 6:58 PM on December 13, 2013


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