Imagine the Cherry Hill Planning Board approving a proposal to build a methadone clinic mostly serving addicts from Camden.
And imagine this happening despite passionate opposition from constituents working to make Cherry Hill a better place.
A similar event happened Tuesday night in Camden, as the city Planning Board approved a methadone clinic proposed for Sixth Street and Atlantic Avenue.
The location, on the fringes of several long-struggling South Camden neighborhoods, makes no sense to folks who live and work in the area, who were out in force at a marathon board meeting at City Hall.
But the proposed clinic’s proximity to I-676 should enable easy access by members of its substantially suburban patient population.
And the new facility will replace one that has proven itself a nuisance downtown, thus eliminating a redevelopment obstacle in the heart of Camden and shifting a supposedly new and improved operation — with the same ownership — to a neighborhood that’s off the radar. Except, of course, to the new neighbors.
But the neighbors evidently aren’t all that important to the big-picture people who oversee the city.
For decades, various politicos and planners and power brokers have believed it best to place whatever stuff the suburbs didn’t want in the city instead.
Facilities such as prisons, sewage treatment plants, incinerators, halfway houses, and methadone clinics have had the collective effect of depressing property values in Camden while protecting property values in the suburbs.
Diminished property values have left the city ever more dependent on those same politicos and planners and power brokers — all of whom have been eager to announce exciting new initiatives to “revive” the city as it disintegrated on their watch.
These days, with downtown almost entirely leveled for eds, meds, and other publicly subsidized, off-the-tax-rolls projects, the politicos and planners and power brokers have torn the prison down and seek to exile the methadone clinic to a distant neighborhood. Presumably taking with it the alarming sight of all those emaciated and agitated young addicts desperately wandering around downtown.
(It’s also worth remembering that the Fifth and Market operation — crammed into a former Rite Aid — was more or less a replacement for a longtime methadone clinic on Broadway; it closed a decade ago to make way for the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University.)
This rather nomadic history of Camden’s methadone clinics aside, such facilities do provide medical treatment essential to reducing the harm people hooked on heroin inflict on themselves and others.
Given the opioid addiction epidemic and the challenges of getting and staying clean, methadone may well prove more useful than ever.
But while I accept the need for such a facility, I question the wisdom of the rather isolated new location. Mass transit service is limited to the bus lines on Broadway, and regardless of how many security guards are on duty at the clinic itself, areas nearby could become a magnet for trouble. That’s certainly been true at Fifth and Market.
Fierce opposition to the new location by the Neighborhood Center, a nonprofit that has served needy families for more than a century from its handsome campus at Second Street and Kaighns Avenue, has largely been ignored. As have the voices of so many opponents of so many other unwanted projects in the city.
I’m also struck by the irony that so many of the poor souls in heroin’s grip are young white men and women from the suburbs, commuting to the city for a medical dose — or an illicit bag — of something they can’t imagine living without.
Of course heroin addicts also live in the city. As do heroin dealers.
But two-thirds of the existing clinic’s clients have zip codes in the suburbs — where “urgent care” medical facilities are springing up like convenience stores at seemingly every major intersection.
It’s nevertheless difficult to imagine the planners, politicos, and power brokers in the suburbs entertaining, much less approving, a methadone clinic proposal.
That only happens in Camden.