Cherry Hill: The Winners

10 thoughts on “Cherry Hill: The Winners”

  1. I grew up in Cherry Hill, and what is seen as “white” now wasn’t seen that way in the 70s. It was mostly upwardly mobile Jewish and Italian, with some protestant/wasp subdivisions. There were also a few Korean and Black families, primarily living in the Jewish subdivisions. Like all suburbs, it was a decent place for small kids, but not great for teenagers. As teens we eagerly took the Speedline to Philadelphia for cultural events, and to walk around in Center City. Compared to some suburbs Philadelphia is relatively walkable — there are sidewalks on all the streets, and most houses are less than a mile from shopping. Some developments are walking distance from the Speedline. The commercial has grown more interesting with many good restaurants (mostly various kinds of Asian, and Italian, as well as some hold-over diners.) I’ve moved a long way, but come back to visit my family fairly regularly. My parents never complained about the taxes — it was more of a you get what you pay for belief system.

  2. I grew up in this area and I agree with your observations. I also saw the post you made about “Frankenburbs” in relation to a newer development in Cherry Hill. However, I just wanted to drop in and point out the positive qualities of Cherry Hill, aside from its schools and safety. Although much of Cherry Hill is sprawl, a significant portion of it did exist prior to WWII. There are significant sections which have a street grid and historic bungalows. In addition, there are two currently active train stations located within the township. At Woodcrest, residents can take the train further east to Lindenwold (and eventually to Atlantic City), while the westbound trains will take you to various points in Center City, Philadelphia. An additional train stations exists in the Golden Triangle section of the township, which will take riders to either Atlantic City or 30th street station in West Philly. Aside from this, Cherry Hill is also located in a very good spot for future maturation. Located less than 8 miles from Center City Philadelphia, Cherry Hill’s neighbors consist of historic, well-established towns such as Collingswood, Camden (yikes), Haddonfield, Merchantville, etc. As Cherry Hill is almost completely surrounded by older and completely built-out towns, I’ve seen a lot of changes happen in the township during my life. As the bulk of Cherry Hill’s housing is from 50’s and 60’s sprawl, the lack of buildable land has resulted in a lot of tear-downs and redevelopment, which is mainly where the McMansions in your post come from. Aside from that, the residents and government of Cherry Hill have attempted New Urbanist and similar-type development without much luck, but I’m hopeful for the future. I’m sure they’ll figure it out eventually. In the meantime, my friends and relatives who live in the township are tying to make various improvements, however small. For example, Cherry Hill has a very strong biking culture even though the current streets make it difficult. Even so, the local government and local advocacy groups do have plans in motion to create protected bike lanes, reduce traffic, etc. As I said before, only time will tell, but I am of the opinion that Cherry Hill is far from a lost cause.

  3. I take back my comment about Brookline. I looked it up–it’s got high taxes, but as far as I can tell it’s because the property values are higher…

    Thanks again for the post!

  4. Thanks for the post and the great pictures. That place looks terrible to me (wouldn’t want to raise my kids there!). But I wonder how unsustainable it is, and I wonder how much the spread out infrastructure actually makes a difference. The town my mom lives in, Brookline, MA, also has super high property taxes, even though it is not very spread out and is about as walkable as a suburb gets.

  5. To be fair, salaries/benefits/pensions suck up by far the largest portion of the general fund revenue of any city and is an obvious target. So, I’m not too hard on Cherry Hill for hiring contractors. Based on looking at my own city’s numbers, there’s fat to trim and things I wish I had a vote on.

    In contrast, capital projects (roads/sewer) are a relatively small part of the budget (15% for my town) and are funded separately by a complicated mix of state, county and local sources. In other words, it’s shared very broadly. From a Strong Towns viewpoint, that means San Francisco is subsidizing Santa Clarita on a revenue per acre basis.

    So whether a city “wins” (meaning financially stays afloat) or not is a bit complicated in my view. Demographics, urban geographies and service level preferences are all factors and operate in a stew of funding mechanisms to produce the final result.

    1. All correct. No dispute. “But.”

      1) Municipal budgets are almost always time bombs. New towns have few legacy costs compared to towns that have been around for a long time (pensions and health care from previous decades of retired workers.) In theory funds have been collected and invested all along and set aside in adequate amounts to cover future obligations. But in reality that money is never quite there. When middle class residents see their taxes rise and current services cut to cover budget shortfalls they balk and move to a new younger town where the legacy costs haven’t accumulated yet. See: new suburbs in Arizona, Texas, Florida rather than century old towns in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Illinois…

      2) The vast majority of local public infrastructure (sewerage treatment plants, highways, fresh water systems, fire station upgrades) have mostly been paid for by massive grants and subsidies from higher levels of government – at least since World War II. Those higher government agencies are all functionally bankrupt now and new funds will not be forthcoming.

      My take on the situation is that pensions and benefits of all kinds will simply not be paid as promised in the future – at least not in full. The money isn’t there and the taxes will not be jacked up to cover the gaps. Infrastructure will not be maintained and triage will ensue – mostly in a chaotic and unplanned manner. The old systems will fail, the slate will be wiped clean in a crisis, and everything will start fresh with new rules after a period of intense ugliness and loss.

      After that’s all over with new winners will emerge. I’m betting on compact, mixed use, walkable neighborhoods in places with nearby productive farm land, plenty of water, and local small scale industry and commerce. Losers will be the far flung incoherent settlements out in the deserts with no social cohesion or local resource base.

  6. I like the arc of the story you tell. Start out pretty, end ugly, or at least clear about the facts. Focus closely on prize locations, zoom out to get the context, make point.

    Why the prize is so great, fuck knows.

  7. Definitely sounds ideal and perhaps worth looking into. The property tax seems extraordinary to say the least. If the city services are worth it and well run, then maybe you get what you pay for. At those prices I would want a pretty clear line item by line item understanding of what is being paid for, especially public safety and education. Also, those stratospheric property taxes may be worth it assuming the residents tax dollars are not going to support out of district students NOT paying into the taxes – a known problem in New Jersey. Crime stats history and crime trajectory are also important. Hopefully this is not a place obama plans to implant a multitude of underserved, under funded people. Another point would be making the move to Cherry Hill and have all the happy, diverse people giving the nod to every “assistance” program that comes along and ultimately find that those already super property taxes ballon even more and to the point residents can no longer afford where they live due to the taxes voted and approved by the residents themselves. Look no further than Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon to see how that works. Kinda reminds me of my boy hood section of Boston, West Roxbury. Lot of family history there and still some family.

    1. Your interest in outside freeloaders who may be crashing the tax funded services of Cherry Hill (real or imagined) are in keeping with my point. The longstanding tendency throughout American history has been for people with resources to identify good locations and to isolate themselves from larger extraneous duties. Individual Americans feel no real obligation to anyone else. If you are artificially made to support the undeserving unwashed masses… you move. Fair enough. I’m not arguing against any of it. Arizona awaits you! My point here is that the old conversation about cities being wasteful and dangerous repositories of poverty (or the extravagant home of detached elites) is out of touch with demographic reality. Most Americans now live in suburbia. Cities get most of the press, but suburbs are where the real America lives – and that vast suburban population is rapidly segregating into haves and have nots.

    2. I fail to see how those taxes are unreasonable. Somehow everyone who can afford a million dollar home thinks they should be paying less than $1,000 per year in property taxes!

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