Camden Collaborative Initiative
In 2013, the City of Camden joined with the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and the US EPA to form the Camden Collaborative Initiative, with the goal of catalyzing partnerships, maximizing resources, and strengthening the outcomes for the city. Joined by over 50 environmental and community service non-profit partners including the National Park Service, Nature Conservancy, and the Trust for Public Land and local neighborhood groups, the Collaborative partners on grants, plans, and implementation of innovative strategies to improve the environment health, revitalize communities, and enrich the lives of Camden residents. The purpose of the Camden Collaborative Initiative is to supplement Camden’s limited resources in order to improve the environment and protect the public health of Camden residents.
Camden, NJ is one of the most economically and environmentally distressed communities in the country. The city’s industrial history means that many of its industries and businesses closely border residential areas of the city, which lead to decreased air quality. Additionally, the post-industrial city is home to hundreds of contaminated sites that pose a significant threat to any neighboring residents. These negative effects are most deeply experienced by Camden’s minority populations and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. At the same time, a number of local government agencies, federal programs, non-profit initiatives, and community-based organizations are focused on improving the environmental and economic conditions in Camden.
The Camden Collaborative Initiative focuses on six areas of impact, including air quality, waste and recycling, land and brownfields, environmental justice, environmental education, and stormwater management and resource training. These initiatives address environmental issues, while also stabilizing the surrounding neighborhoods and improving public health. For example, the Camden SMART initiative is a cross-sector collaboration with the community to install neighborhood-scale green and gray infrastructure projects and training programs to address combined sewage flooding, and improve water quality in Camden neighborhoods. In conjunction with the land and brownfields working group, the Camden Collaborative Initiative is working to transform Camden’s two Superfund sites and 114 known contaminated sites into community assets that enhance ecological health, provide public access, protect water quality, and spark economic development. By leveraging resources and expertise, partners converted an abandoned factory with contaminated soil and runoff into a riverfront park adjacent to the wastewater treatment facility. The 10-acre Phoenix Park provides water front access, eliminates contamination to the Delaware River, and captures five million gallons of stormwater to reduce flooding.
In just three years of collaboration, partners have worked together to create 50 green infrastructure projects and five riverfront parks, establish sustainability and water conservation ordinances, and remediate harmful brownfields. Camden Collaborative Initiative demonstrates how water and wastewater infrastructure can impact many other aspects of a community, including parks and public space, air quality, economic development, and more. It is an example of what we can achieve for our communities when we cultivate cross-sector partnerships to address water and environmental issues.