Jared Gruenwald, Left Eyed Studios

When it came to redeveloping Branch Village in Camden, New Jersey, it was all about community. Residents of the historic town were involved every step of the way, participating in dozens of input and planning meetings, including individual focus groups for seniors, young adults, children, and more.

“We spent almost a year and a half planning out this community with architects and professional planners. We probably had 100 resident meetings,” says Nick Cangelosi, vice president of Michaels Development Co. “What’s there today is really the accumulation of all those meetings and all that input.”

A local YouthBuild chapter—a nonprofit organization for young adults between 16 and 24—and a number of Camden businesses even helped in the construction. The $15.9 million fourth phase features 58 one-bedroom units.

“We had all types of participation from smaller suppliers to larger ones, and it really has a huge economic impact on the community,” Cangelosi says. “Having residents participate in the development and construction of the community is as impactful as anything a developer can effectuate in an overall plan, because when they tell their kids that they helped build this community, it has a generational kind of impact—a sense of pride.”

Jared Gruenwald, Left Eyed Studios

Thanks to all that local input and hard work, Branch Village is now a stark contrast from its former self. Previously a 1940s-era, barrack-style housing development, the Branch Village of today is a sprawling property complete with new roads and a mixture of modern and energy-efficient senior low-rise apartments and single-family townhomes.

Branch Village features a computer lab, a fitness center, a commercial kitchen, and a free health clinic run by Rutgers University. One resident says the clinic saved her enough money to register her son for football this year. And, once a week a bus filled with groceries visits the site for residents to shop.

“It’s really intentionally set out to create a more vibrant community,” Cangelosi says. “It’s a radical transformation from the almost uninhabitable housing that was there previously.”