Collapse of a City

Collapse of a City

Thomas Roberts, Camden, New Jersey’s affable director of economic redevelopment, used to be optimistic about bringing his moribund waterfront city back to life. “But then I saw Roger & Me,” he says, “and I realized it would not be an overnight redevelopment, but would take a long, long time.”

Indeed, Camden-8.6 square miles of urban devastation across the Delaware River from Philadelphia—has so many problems it makes filmmaker Michael Moore’s Flint, Michigan, seem poised for takeoff. Where Flint has been reeling under a wave of Japanese auto imports since the 1970s, Camden has been on the skids since its shipyards went into decline in the forties. Flint still has its local gentry, judging from Moore’s film, its blue-rinsed ladies complaining about lazy, laid-off auto workers, while Camden’s gentry departed long ago. Evictions for nonpayment of rent form a
running theme in Roger & Me; yet so many people have fled Camden over the last three decades, it’s surprising that anyone is left to pay rent at all.

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Duggan | University of California Press Gardels