Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Camden's New Waterfront?

Camden's ambitious $830M master plan for its waterfront has been revised, and recently won approval by New Jersey's Economic Development Authority. This could be a very big deal, kids. Cira East, anyone?

The complex, designed by Robert A. M. Stern, would be developed by Liberty Property Trust. This firm, behind both Comcast towers, has a knack for getting shit done, and not wasting its time. The commercial space, residences, and hotel have a chance to dust off the irrelevance of this troubled city and resurrect some of its past as a place people actually want to be...if it's done right.

But don't let Stern's Cira Centre-esque towers fool you. This is no Cira Centre and - at least for now - the only thing that makes this project urban is the fact that it happens to be in a city. Take a gander at the site map and, whoa, that is a lot of parking. 

Unfortunately, Camden has found itself in a pickle where parking is a caveat for development. So much parking, in fact, that 4000 spaces would be provided for only 211 residential units and 130 hotel rooms. The good news is, all new parking would be garaged in structures surrounded by apartment buildings, so it won't be seen. 

Wow, that is a lot of parking.

It should be safe to say that - with 4000 new spaces and the surface lots surrounding the site - downtown Camden will have enough parking to satisfy itself for the next fifty years. If this plan happens in its entirety, one would hope it would attract urban minded residents and companies looking for a little slice of Philadelphia east of the Delaware, which is essentially what Camden should be, and new businesses would drive similar growth. Think Hoboken or Arlington, VA. 

But New Jersey, oddly being imbedded in the Northeast Corridor, is a state that has yet to truly embrace urbanism, real urbanism. I say "embrace" and not "understand" because the state has made strides with transit. They get it, they just don't seem ready to commit. Traffic and parking lots abound, and in New Jersey, especially South Jersey, car is King. 

New Jersey's reluctance to ditch it's cater-to-the-car approach, especially in urban areas like Camden, is mind boggling when you consider the city's built-in urban infrastructure. Newer West Coast suburbs like Redmond have built better urban experiences from scratch while urban cores like Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver scramble to retrofit their downtowns for a life detached from the car. 

With its sidewalk-facing apartments and vertical office space, it seems that Camden is at least trying to tiptoe into the world of tomorrow, which is subsequently the world of yesterday. I hope nothing but the best for Camden. And if its residents never abandon their cars, I hope to see those two beautiful skyscrapers every time I visit Penn's Landing.

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