Saturday, July 20, 2013

Adios Camden

Philadelphia City Hall
       It's been quite a warm week here in Philadelphia. As I type these words, it is not without a feeling of melancholy knowing that this will be my last post corresponding from Camden. The work I have left to do, which I am excited about sharing in coming posts, no longer requires me to be here. Although my field work is now over, it has, without a doubt, been a success. I was able to get my hands on census tracts, manufacturing data, primary archival information, and much more in addition to the eyeopening interviews which I was lucky enough to attain. The next step is the synthesis of my research which will produce the most thoughtful research paper possible. These past three weeks have been ones of discovery and emotion. I've grown a certain attachment to Camden and it's residents. As I walk through it's streets and glance across a landscape of gutted buildings and street blocks, I can't help but fill in the lost space with the splendid metropolis that once stood here. But this city is more than what it has lost. It is much more than four days of terrible chaos that stripped it of whatever vitality it had left at the time. Camden is Dominic Petulla. It is Joe Rodriguez. It is a city of perseverance for, although it has lost everything it's had, it continues to survive with an eye fixed on the future while embracing the present.
Everyone I encountered emitted a feeling of genuineness and embraced me with smiles on their faces. Certainly Camden has a long way to go in order to become as prominent as it once was. But what I have learned here is that it will never be the Camden of old. Whatever it does become will be a product of the efforts of those with a vision on the future, of a new Camden. Since 2001, this city by the Delaware river has become the new home of the Adventure Aquarium, Campbell's Field, the Susquehanna Bank Center, and the USS New Jersey Battleship. In 2009, the River State Prison in the North Camden was closed down and the ground on which it stood is the subject of redevelopment. Revitalization is happening. Certainly, the city still has it's share of issues that continue to plague it and that should not be ignored: severe poverty, drug use, crime, poor housing. But a step in the right direction has been made. Revenue is coming in and hopefully the trend of political corruption that has been a stain on a city trying to regain its footing will end.
       In my last moments in the city, I decided to visit my new friend Mr. Petulla. On a 97 degree day, he was in his business with nothing to cool him but an industrial fan in the corner of his workstation. I greeted him and after a adjusting his glasses, I received a huge smile and a strong "Hey, kid!". After a short chat, Mr. Petulla returned to his work and I returned to my life not knowing if I would see him again. We don't know what the future brings. Whatever hope we do have is gained from whatever good we see in someone or something. There is no other way that I can explain it better than saying that the smiles I received in Camden give me hope. I believe. 

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