by Paul A. Jargowsky
“Camden is solved,” New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno triumphantly proclaimed at a recent charity event. That’s funny, I thought, given that the city’s poverty rate hovers around 40 percent and its streets – where I had just gotten lost on the way to the elegant gala – are still filled with potholes, dilapidated housing, vacant lots and the ruins of former industrial sites. She was referring, however, to the Economic Opportunity Act of 2013, which has doled out $1.3 billion in tax breaks over 10 years to selected companies who agree to move to the beleaguered city. But what will this massive program accomplish?
Recipients of the program’s generosity include Holtec International ($260 million), a manufacturer of small nuclear reactors; the car maker Subaru ($118 million); EMR Eastern ($253 million), which recycles metal; American Water Works ($164 million), a utility company; and the Philadelphia 76ers ($82 million), who recently held the grand opening for their new practice facility. Camden is clearly better off to have these companies building new facilities and moving their operations within city limits. All of these companies, however, are moving from nearby locations within Camden County or a neighboring county and are bringing most of their employees with them.
Various federal programs in the 1960s – including Kennedy’s anti-delinquency program, the War on Poverty, and Model Cities – funded large numbers of arts programs in America’s cities, often intending to provide job training for marginalized peoples or to bolster their chances of survival in modern urban society. But the process of federal grants almost inevitably defies intentions. Local community groups often put the money to different uses, re-imagining its purpose and what constituted “urban culture.”
Mark Krasovic is an assistant professor of history and American studies and interim director of the Clement A. Price Institute at Rutgers University-Newark. His first book, The Newark Frontier: Community Action in the Great Society, was published earlier this year.
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