CAMDEN, NJ — Building connections to help elevate the Lanning Square neighborhood — an area where vacant lots are prevalent and parks commonly draw littering — is the goal of a new neighborhood campaign.

Over the weekend, the Lanning Square West Residents Association made that message heard with the launch of “We Care Lanning Square.” 

The initiative kicked off Saturday with the planting of flowers along the border of area parks, a tour of the neighborhood with children including KIPP students, and engaging conversations with community members about how they could do their part.

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One such parcel they visited was 4th and Washington Park, a site that completed its $1.4 million restoration last year - combining efforts between city, county, local civic leaders, and members of the Lanning Square neighborhood. 

Since the opening of the park, nearly seven months ago, Lanning Square West Residents Association president Dr. Susan Stukes told TAPinto Camden that she’s been encouraged by her group’s work with the city’s department of public works (DPW) to maintain a clean and healthy environment for park visitors. 

“We're here monitoring things on a daily basis, and making it known when there’s anything that might need to be fixed or addressed,” said Stukes during a walk-through of the area. “The DPW has been a big help, they work on their end to pick up trash and help us in other ways. We want to keep going.”

While highlighting the park's refined sports court, benches, and a playground, Stukes — who has lived in Camden for the past eight years — pointed to the noticeably defunct spray garden.

“It’s not working right now,” she said. “See, we have a committee that lists repairs and in the case of the sprinklers, they reported that to Cooper’s Ferry. It’s in the process of being repaired.”

Taking the next step

Stukes and Lanning Square West Residents Association Vice President Pino Rodriguez, a Camden native for over 60 years, said the neighborhood aims to draw the kind of resources provided to the city’s waterfront, increase the police presence with officers walking the beat, and improve its overall housing conditions. 

The group, which has been in existence for over a decade, said the start of 2020 felt like an appropriate time to launch the campaign and turn over a new leaf. 

“We want the people of Lanning Square to know we’re mindful of the changes they want,” added Stukes. “We hope to accomplish that and more through the relationships we establish in the city."

Pino, 65, said he wants to see the views of the neighborhood as a historically positive force in the city, and wants the facades of homes and the state of parks to continue to reflect that. 

“We want to change the narrative around where people stand here,” Rodriguez said. “Across the street from where we’re standing...we did a clean-up. But cleaning and boarding up the houses [is temporary]. Like any of the others in the city, they end up drawing loiterers. I like to say we want to take the ‘hood’ out of the neighborhood and make it a 'neighborgood.' We want people to know they’re welcomed here.”

Recent efforts, Stukes said, have been helped by the group’s first grant: a $5,000 contribution from the Cooper Hospital Foundation.

“We’re hoping to get more money to do more things in the community,” she noted. 

The Lanning Square West Residents Association said they “are open to partnering with anyone interested in improving the community,” including schools groups, other neighborhood organizations, and small and large businesses. 

Check the neighborhood's Facebook page for upcoming events. 

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