Research Center Serves as Hub for Solving Urban Issues

Prior to the housing collapse in 2008, property values were rising steadily in neighborhood real estate markets in older cities throughout the country.

screen-changestudy2In such cities experiencing revitalization, it is difficult to determine if low-income residents are pushed out, or remain in these neighborhoods, reaping the benefits of improvements, says Paul Jargowsky, a Rutgers–Camden professor of public policy.

“While both sides of the argument have been argued extensively, there is an empirical gap in the literature,” says Jargowsky, director of Rutgers–Camden’s Center for Urban Research and Education (CURE).

To bridge this gap, a CURE research team has initiated a project, “The Camden Neighborhood Change Study,” to assess the social and economic impacts of changing real-estate markets in the Camden neighborhoods of Cramer Hill, Cooper Lanning, and North Camden’s Waterfront. “These areas have received or are about to receive significant resource allocations,” says Jargowsky. “We want to determine if current residents in these changing neighborhoods benefit from neighborhood change or experience displacement.”

screen-changestudy1Working in collaboration with neighborhood-based organizations in Camden, CURE recently shared its research with the non-profit Cooper’s Ferry Partnership with the intent of helping local organizations utilize the data to inform their economic development plans, according to Natasha Tursi, associate director of the Rutgers–Camden research center.

Tursi emphasizes that CURE is not focused on advocacy, but rather consistently views urban issues through the lens of empirical research.

Jargowsky echoed the sentiment, noting that the center’s scholarship focus enables it to play a unique role among the many individuals and organizations trying to make a difference in Camden. “There is a lot of energy and effort that is going into the city, and we all play different roles,” he says. “We are not going to be building housing; that’s not what we do. But we can help to paint the picture of what has or hasn’t worked in the city and elsewhere.”

The research study is the latest example of how the Rutgers–Camden center is working with concerned organizations and individuals to study urban issues. Founded in 2011, the center has served as a vibrant, networking hub for urban scholars in and outside the Rutgers community. According to Jargowsky, most universities are typically structured according to disciplines, with scholars rarely collaborating outside their academic silos. Since urban issues traverse many different fields, including economics, planning, political science, and public health, CURE seeks to foster a community across these disciplinary boundaries. “It’s imperative that scholars are aware of one another’s research pursuits so that they can collaborate on these issues,” says Jargowsky.

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Natasha Tursi

CURE actively brings together students, faculty, and interested community members through a series of collegial lunches, monthly research and policy seminars, and major research conferences.  The lunch meetings enable affiliated scholars to engage in face-to-face discussions, thereby facilitating future collaborations, says Tursi, who notes that these scholars are connected on a daily basis via the center’s website, blog posts, and Twitter feed. “We try to draw as much attention as possible to the various activities of everyone involved in the center,” says Tursi, who founded Rutgers–Camden’s Urban Studies Students Association as an undergraduate in 1998.

The monthly seminars, held in conjunction with Rutgers–Camden’s Office of Civic Engagement, provide members and affiliates with opportunities to learn about cutting-edge research and initiatives from scholars, community activists and others engaged in urban research and/or urban change. Past seminars have featured a variety of speakers, including Peter J. O’Connor, a longtime civil rights activist and co-counsel in the historic Mount Laurel fair housing litigation. “We want these events to reach into and impact educational programs,” says Jargowsky.

In addition, the research center held its inaugural major research conference, “The Challenge of Camden, The Challenge for America,” in April, featuring a keynote address by Harvard Professor William Julius Wilson. The conference addressed the poverty of Camden in the context of its region. Another conference is planned for later this fall, featuring a keynote address by scholar Frances Fox Piven, author of Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America.

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Paul Jargowsky

CURE also works to establish a network of urban research centers in the southern New Jersey region and beyond. CURE-affiliated research centers include centers at Rutgers–New Brunswick and Rutgers–Newark, the University of Pennsylvania, and Temple University. “We have reached out to and formed alliances with these urban research centers and a number of area universities, and will be joining forces with them on future activities,” says Jargowsky.

In addition to expanding this research community, the center aims to cultivate the next generation of urban scholars at Rutgers–Camden. CURE works closely with students in the Department of Public Policy and Administration, and also funds graduate students’ costs to attend conferences and present their research.

“We are always interested in staying up-to-date with students’ research projects, and actively provide suggestions,” says Tursi, who earned a bachelor’s degree in urban studies in 1999, a master’s degree in liberal studies in 2001 from Rutgers–Camden, and a Ph.D. in planning and public policy in 2011 from the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers–New Brunswick.

As Jargowsky sees it, it helps that Rutgers–Camden students have an unparalleled level of interest and motivation to solve social ills. “The students who choose to come to Rutgers–Camden are not a random group of students,” he says. “They are curious about why things are the way that they are, and want to know to how to bring about change.”

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