The Double Bind of Redevelopment

Camden During Receivership

By David M. Greenberg, Nandita Verma, David Seith

Camden, New Jersey, is one of the nation’s poorest cities. In 2002, state legislation allowed it to be placed into receivership. In the early years of receivership, the city proposed billion-dollar redevelopment efforts in several neighborhoods, hoping to encourage mixed-income development and a more sustainable fiscal future. The largest of these involved the potential displacement of thousands of people through use of eminent domain. These ambitious plans were met with protest and litigation, and have not yet advanced. During the same period, community organizations continued to build and rehabilitate affordable housing, the city’s educational and medical facilities were able to expand, and some smaller neighborhood-wide redevelopment plans did, in fact, move forward. This paper finds that three factors were related to more successful redevelopment efforts. These efforts: (1) were able to build on groups’ existing capacities and their past work in neighborhoods; (2) were marked by more effective participatory dynamics and the limited use of eminent domain; and (3) benefited from good relationships with the State of New Jersey and with private-sector partners. In summarizing these efforts and the potential for stalemate during redevelopment, the paper concludes by elaborating a metaphor for the challenges distressed cities sometimes face: the “double bind of redevelopment.” A double bind is a situation where contradictory demands make it difficult to act. In Camden, public officials sometimes felt the pressure of demands to take strong action to “turn around” the city. However, their collective experiences also sometimes led them to practice redevelopment in a manner that made it difficult for them to realize this bold vision on their own. The paper’s broadest suggestion is that attempts to build public capacity to revitalize cities may need to be complemented by efforts to build civic capacity, or the ability to solve problems in coordination with major partners.

Document Details

Publication Type
Working Paper
April 2009
Greenberg, David M., Nandita Verma, and David Seith. 2009. “The Double Bind of Redevelopment.” New York: MDRC.