WHETHER you live in Philadelphia or across the bridge in Camden, know who has some of the best waterfront property around? The inmates at Riverfront State Prison.
That's right. For more than 25 years, the prison has occupied a prime spot on the banks of the Delaware in North Camden. One of the greatest views of Philadelphia is enjoyed not by the hard-working families struggling to keep this community together but by the convicted criminals who'd rather tear communities apart.
We in North Camden feel Philadelphians' pain from being cut off from their waterfront. You have I-95 to contend with. We have the Big House. But over the last few years, momentum has been growing on both sides of the Delaware to reconnect our communities to the river and create a waterfront that's a vibrant recreational destination for residents and visitors alike.
Gov. Corzine recently pledged to close the prison, removing one of the biggest barriers to development north of the Ben Franklin Bridge - and North Camden's economic revitalization. And look no farther than the successful projects just south of the bridge for evidence that economic development along Camden's waterfront is achievable.
The closure of Riverfront can't happen soon enough for North Camden. Just as Philadelphia, through the efforts of Penn Praxis, has adopted a visionary action plan for its side of the river, so too has North Camden. In 2007, with resources from the William Penn Foundation, North Camden started a planning process for their waterfront and core neighborhood.
Led by Save Our Waterfront, a neighborhood group that represents people who live, work and worship in North Camden, hundreds of residents, community leaders and other interested parties spent many months developing a comprehensive plan to revitalize the waterfront and their community. Much like the Penn Praxis plan, ours is based on the principles of reconnecting the city to the river's edge, honoring the river and designing with nature.
This grassroots plan provides a long-range vision for North Camden and lays out an implementation strategy that will serve as a road map for revitalization. It takes advantage of the neighborhood's existing assets and unique position along the waterway.
Gaining riverfront access and extending city streets to the water are integral components of creating a revitalized waterfront and recreational destination. The North Camden Plan envisions a waterfront where local families and visitors can enjoy riverside walking trails, playing fields, fishing and picnic groves. These recreational activities will be complemented by a tasteful mix of commercial and retail development that reaches into the neighborhood, generating jobs and tax revenues for the city. The plan also envisions nearly 3,600 new market-rate and affordable housing units and an estimated 300 permanent jobs over the next 10 years.
The plan also has strategies for revitalizing the industrial properties along the back channel of the Delaware River. North Camden is tackling the same challenges as Philadelphia neighborhoods along the northern part of the river: large swaths of vacant and underutilized land. While waterfront industry used to supply jobs for these communities, today we need a riverfront with park access and connections into the neighborhood.
BUT THE success of any development of the North Camden waterfront largely depends on the removal of the prison. Closing it will allow the extension of the existing downtown waterfront promenade and let North Camden residents access their waterfront for the first time in generations.
Urban waterfronts throughout the country are looking to reconnect the city neighborhoods to the water and bring the value of the water back to the neighborhoods. Philadelphia and Camden are among those that are ready to take the next steps and transform their vision into a reality.
Support waterfront revitalization by supporting the closing of the Riverfront State Prison. *