N.J. chapter of American Planning Assoc. awards Rowan students for Camden parks study

N.J. chapter of American Planning Assoc. awards Rowan students for Camden parks study


A team of Rowan University students have won a prestigious award for their study of Camden parks and the ways in which residents relate to the parks, take advantage of them, and, in some cases, avoid them.

The students, undergraduates and graduates in the Department of Geography, Planning and Sustainability within the School of Earth & Environment were recognized for work conducted through the Rowan University Planning Studio with the 2023 Best Student Project Award from the New Jersey chapter of the American Planning Association, the premier national organization for urban and city planners.

Associate Professor Mahbubur Meenar said their study, “Restorative City Planning: Parks, People, and the Environment,” involved many of the components required in a professional plan – one that might be acted upon by city officials.

“This was a research study using urban planning principles. Students considered all the factors we’d use in an actual plan,” Meenar said.

To collect information for the study, students conducted surveys, focus groups and interviews to understand residents’ and stakeholders’ perceptions of different parks and how they relate to them.

Considering the dozens of parks throughout the city, students found that simply having designated park space was not always enough.

“It has to be functional and has to be maintained and may even be a source of nuisance if it’s not,” Meenar said.

Students also found that accessibility to parkland often determines its usability. For example, students found that Phoenix Park in South Camden, though relatively new, goes largely unused because it’s surrounded by industrial sites.

Among other findings, residents often felt that some city parks did not offer features for all age groups, were not well maintained, and that some had ongoing problems, like locked restrooms and broken swing sets, that made them unusable.

Additionally, Meenar said, students discovered that despite a strong need for green space in cities, Camden residents sometimes felt left out of the planning for it, and some believe the money used to create new parks is not always well spent.

“Some said there are other issues, like crime, housing or food insecurity, that might be focused on instead or income generating projects that might produce more jobs instead of building more parks,” Meenar said.

Graduate student Jonathan Hansel said participation in the study helped further prepare him with the workforce and gave him vital experience working with the community.

“This project significantly enhanced my GIS skills and professionalism, including public speaking and teamwork,” Hansel said. “Being honored with the Best Student Project award validates the hard work done by Dr. Meenar and the students, highlights the importance of the cause, and holds personal significance for me, evoking fond memories of collaborating and making connections.”