Camden Collaborative Initiative: Putting neighborhoods at the center of cross-sector partnerships

US Water Alliance and Andy Kricun, Executive Director, Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority | July 11, 2017

Camden, New Jersey, faces serious economic and environmental challenges that reflect its history as an industrial city. Camden is home to hundreds of contaminated areas, including two Superfund sites and 114 other contaminated sites. These environmental issues that pose a significant threat to any neighboring residents, particularly Camden’s minority populations and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. In order to address these challenges, the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority partnered with the City of Camden, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and the US EPA to form the Camden Collaborative Initiative in 2013. This project demonstrates that communities are better able to address large-scale social and environmental challenges when cities, clean water utilities and organizations work together and pool resources.

In addition to the government partners, the Camden Collaborative Initiative is joined by over 50 environmental and community service non-profit partners. The Collaborative aims to improve environment health, revitalize communities, and enrich the lives of Camden residents by collaborating on grants, plans, and project implementation in six areas of impact: air quality, waste and recycling, land and brownfields, environmental justice, environmental education, and stormwater management and resource training.

The Initiative uses natural solutions like green infrastructure to reduce combined sewage flooding, remediate contaminated sites and create more green spaces. Camden SMART, a cross-sector collaboration with the community, installs neighborhood-scale green and gray infrastructure projects around the city, as well as creating 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 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 waterfront access, eliminates contamination to the Delaware River, and captures five million gallons of stormwater to reduce flooding.

The Initiative has made great strides 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 impressive example of the power of cross-sector partnerships to create an array of community benefits while addressing water and environmental issues.