CAMDEN, NJ— A portion of the business corridor along Mt. Ephraim Avenue that divides the city’s Whitman Park and Liberty Park neighborhoods was blocked off to traffic Tuesday morning, instead, the road’s two lanes were filled with trucks and the city’s department of public works employees.
While the dozens of city workers were busy picking up trash, handing out trash cans and boarding up vacant properties, Mayor Frank Moran stood at the intersection of Mt. Ephraim Avenue and Jackson Street and called upon the city’s residents and business owners to help keep the city clean.
The mayor was joined by city and county officials to announce the start of his second Team Up! Clean Up! Campaign, an effort to clean up Camden’s neighborhoods. The campaign will hold its first neighborhood cleanup on Saturday in East Camden’s Dudley Grange Park, but first, the mayor wanted to clean up what he called the “backbone” of the city.
“We believe that the business corridors, which have been the backbone of the great City of Camden should get the first attention,” Moran said. “We know this city at one time was a city of 140,000 people with thousands of jobs. But we also know the small businesses have always been a place of employment for folks of the community and that’s why we’re here today.”
In addition to the city cleaning up the business corridor Moran, along with department heads from the city’s public works, code enforcement and Camden County Freeholder Susan Shin Angulo, went door to door to talk with city residents and Mt. Ephraim Avenue business owners to inform them of their responsibilities as required by city ordinances.
“We’re here to talk about how do we improve our business corridors … how do we continue to keep our business corridors pristine, clean and free of debris,” Moran said. “This is not a punitive approach. We want to literally work with them to be able to put their best foot forward and join us.”
Tuesday’s efforts, along with the mayor’s Team Up! Clean Up! Campaign and other clean up events held in March, are part of Moran’s inclusive prosperity initiative — his plan to bring investment and resources to the city’s neighborhoods. Tuesday morning, Moran told a story about waking up on Saturday mornings with his family to clean up outside of the home he grew up in on River Road.
“Help us clean up our city, we can do this,” Moran said. “These are just basic 101 things. I’m not trying to offend anyone, I’m saying help us maintain not someone else’s city, but our city.”
Lifelong Camden resident Everlynia Hudson said her family would also clean up outside of their home on Saturday mornings when she was growing up in South Camden. Hudson, 60, was on Mt. Ephraim Avenue Tuesday on her way to visit her daughter on Chase Street when she stopped to watch the mayor’s press conference.
“I think it's a good, persevering idea, and I believe in that, because we want to live a cleaner, better life. And in order for us to do that we have to participate,” Hudson said. “Everyday at work I see so much trash, and I feel like going out and just cleaning it myself, we don’t want to live in a filthy environment.”
The mayor said that over the last year, the city’s public works department has cleaned up around 100 alleyways, 1,300 lots, 450 additional vacant lots; boarded up 450 homes; secured or resecured 2,400 properties that were once boarded up; conducted over 3,000 bulk trash pick-ups; and removed graffiti from over 400 walls.
However, the city’s director of public works Keith Walker said that for the department of public works to not only continue, but improve its efforts, it needs the help of the city’s residents.
“We need everybody’s help, as public works we can only do so much. We’re here for seven hours a day, we can only do what seven hours a day allows us to do,” Walker said. “I’m here for the present as well as the future. We need the residents' help, the small businesses' help, help from every entity that’s able to put a little stamp on Camden to make this a better place to live.”
Jasper Muhammad, owner of the Touch of Jaz Hair Gallery, opened his barber shop at 1598 Mt. Ephraim Ave. six years ago with more in mind than just cutting hair.
“We watch our children go to school, and to see some of the trash and debris that they have to walk over just to get to school — it was discouraging,” Muhammad said. “So when I decided to open up, I didn’t want to just open up a business, I wanted to set an example for other young people that just because you live in the City of Camden and things are not as fortunate as they could be in other places, that you don’t have to live like this.”
Since he’s opened, every morning Muhammad cleans up not just outside of his shop, but the entire block, down to Chase Street and back to Louis Street.
“If anything, I would like to leave this one message that we all have to take a step forward and beyond to make it safer not just for me or for you, but for our children,” Muhammad said.
To bolster the cleanup efforts, the mayor also announced a partnership with the Camden County Police Department to help the city’s code enforcement department enforce and identify any code violations in the city.
“The reason this partnership was created is because contributing factors to crime are places that are not well kept, that have trash, graffiti, vacant properties. They attract crime and violent offenders. This type of campaign is going to help us curb crime,” said Lt. Gabriel Rodriguez of the Camden County Police Department.
Fairview resident KC Bey said that he thinks the business owners along Mt. Ephraim Avenue could be more like Muhammad, but appreciate the city’s efforts.
“It’s really on the community like they said. A little bit at a time, I think that’s a good thing,” Bey said outside a Touch of Jaz Hair Gallery Tuesday. “Because our kids, they only doing what they see, so if they seeing us littering and us throwing all that stuff, that’s what they’re going to come up doing. It’s not going to change. So I think this is a good time to start.”
“When you make places more desirable, people want to keep it that way .. the kids will see that and they will grow up and not want to litter,” said Bey.
The first Team Up! Clean Up! event is this Saturday at Dudley Grange Park, and will begin at 9 a.m.