Once a major transportation and industrial hub, the last half of the 20th century saw Camden, NJ re-branded as a city facing great challenges. In North Camden, problems were compounded by a lack of funding for and poor management of certain key public spaces, along with a massive physical barrier, the Ben Franklin Bridge, separating the neighborhood from Cooper Grant and the rest of downtown.
Working with Cooper's Ferry Parternship (CFP) and funded by the Kresge Foundation, PPS facilitated a community-driven planning process to identify key neighborhood destinations and connecting spaces that would be the focus of active placemaking efforts in 2014. This process identified Northgate and Johnson Parks as key areas of focus, along with several underutilized vacant lots and links between the two neighborhoods. The placemaking team also included several artists who were heavily involved throughout the process to draw upon the creativity of the local community in order to enhance local engagement in public spaces.
Upon completion of the placemaking process, Cooper's Ferry Partnership narrowed down the list of potential activities and projects that could successfully be implemented starting in summer 2014. CFP chose projects that had the potential to grow over time and positively advance the redevelopment goals set forth in the North Camden neighborhood plan. In addition, projects were selected based on their potential to change perceptions of important neighborhood spaces and to help create safe, well-activated corridors and community connections. Events held in 2014 included dance and fitness programming in both Northgate and Johnson Parks by the local YMCA. Artists from Public Workshop and local youth also create a pop-up skate park in one of the vacant lots. A Camden Night Garden Event and harvest dinner in Northgate Park, staged by Nuit Blanche New York, featured the largest tablecloth in America on record, created by Katherine Sclavi as a participatory art project involving 200 residents of both North Camden and Cooper Grant.
With locally-inspired activities that fly in the face of traditional park programs, from bread-baking to puppet shows, Toronto residents created a community place out of a park neglected by locals and city officials alike.