Camden, NJ—Community members came out in droves to Cooper's Poynt Waterfront Park Friday night to celebrate the "unofficial" start of summer and kick off the Connect the Lots season.
Connect the Lots, a collaboration between Cooper's Ferry Partnership and the City of Camden to take advantage of the city's open space, held its fifth annual Camden Night Gardens.
"It's a one-night immersive showcase that really helps to highlight the arts and culture here in Camden, and this magnificent open space that we have here," said Meishka Mitchell, vice president of community initiatives for Cooper's Ferry.
Throughout the park, families could take in aerial acrobats, live music performances, a car show or even fly through the air on a zip line. There was also food trucks to grab a bite to eat, along with performers from the Trenton Circus Squad riding around on unicycles or walking on stilts.
The theme for this year's Camden Night Gardens was "Tides of Change."
"The theme helps to highlight this site in particular. It's right here on the [Delaware] river," said Mitchell. "But also ... we had this event here for the first time five years ago—right after the prison first came down—as a way to showcase that this site could be a great open public space. And we’re here five years later, after the park is built, so its coming full circle.
"That's the tides of change—from a prison to this magnificent space where we can have these great events," Mitchell said.
The park is the former site of the Riverfront State Prison, which was torn down in 2010.
Jovon Saint Cloud, a singer/songwriter who grew up in Camden, was one of the musical performers Friday night. It was his first time back to perform at Camden Night Gardens since the first event held five years ago.
"It's amazing to see how much its expanded," said Saint Cloud. "I love the event, its awesome for the community. This is definitely bringing unity, especially in a city that’s been full of violence and a lot of mayhem in the past years, especially since I was growing up ... It's amazing. It's a beautiful thing in this city."
It was Sicklerville resident Grayling Johnson's first Camden Night Gardens. He had a 2014 Chevrolet Corvette in the car show.
"I worked in the city for a number of years, and lived in the city for about 17 years, so I kind of have a personal connection to Camden," said Johnson. "It's great so far. It's a beautiful night, and its' a great, positive event."
Hope Lugo, of Camden, was most excited about the car show herself. She said her favorite car was Ford Mustang with a chrome front and "nitrous in the back."
"So far, yes, I'm having fun," said Lugo. Her friend, Destiny Wilson, also of Camden, said it was her first time at Camden Night Gardens, and the first time at Cooper's Poynt Waterfront Park.
"It's cool," said Wilson. "It's a beautiful view."
According to Mitchell, not only has the Camden Night Gardens event grown each year, but so has the Connect the Lots season schedule.
"We’ve gone from a handful of major events to a full schedule where there is literally something to do every day in the City of Camden that’s free and family-friendly. That’s what Connect the Lots is all about," said Mitchell.
She added that the program's goal is to get the community out into the public spaces where there are vacant lots or underutilized space, "to build those bridges and have that community culture of getting people together in an open public forum, to be able to have this sense of community and build pride in the residents.
"We don’t have to go to Philadelphia for a great festival, there are great festivals and great things happening here in the City of Camden, as there should be," said Mitchell.
For more information on this summer's Connect the Lots schedule, visit www.connectthelotscamden.com or call 856-757-9154.