Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 7
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
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Back to the (Princeton) Future: Meeting Looks at New Proposals

Ellen Gilbert

“It’s a four-sided problem, and if we keep meeting, then maybe things will come together,” observed Princeton Future Managing Director Sheldon Sturges in a recent conversation about the group’s Saturday morning meeting at the Princeton Public Library.

The four sides in question include government, institutions, community organizations, and businesses. Saturday’s discussion continued a theme introduced at an earlier Princeton Future meeting, where the success of a Morristown community partnership was offered as an example Princeton might emulate.

A handout calling on the Borough and Township governments to support “the Princeton partnership” was distributed, suggesting that such a collaboration could operate as a non-profit 501(c)3, a special improvement district (SID), or a community economic development corporation. According to Princeton Future’s recommendation, this partnership would provide a mechanism for “planning the downtown district as an element of the community master plan; improving the economy of the downtown, the Borough and the township; improving community transportation and parking systems; and for achieving affordable housing for the workforce, families, and seniors of the community.”

In his opening remarks, Chairman Robert Geddes also introduced the idea of creating an information index that would provide data for decision-making. He cited Providence Rhode Island’s exemplary website, which documents block-by-block changes in the city. He also urged the Princeton community to look at its “human values,” asking questions particular to the local culture. Describing Princeton Future’s eight-year history, he noted that the purpose of the organization was to act as “an NGO” (non-governmental organization), facilitating discussion without actually making policy. Princeton Future Council member Marvin Bressler expressed his own support for creating an information index, saying that conversations are being “carried on on the basis of very little knowledge.”

Audience response during the second half of the meeting addressed some of the issues raised during the first half, and raised others. Noting that a number of organizations have already amassed quantities of regional data, longtime Princeton resident Pam Hersh spoke to the question of an “information index” by saying that “we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.” Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman observed that SIDs have been discussed “on and off for the past 25 years. People want a SID if it means money’s not coming out of their pocket.” Acknowledging that the Borough “would benefit from a SID,” she concluded that “There can be a plan, but it will be of no use unless everyone is willing to participate in it.”

While former Borough Mayor Marvin Reed suggested that ongoing traffic problems are the result of people who come to work in Princeton but don’t live here, Princeton-based architect Joshua Zinder pointed out that this was an oversimplification, since residents, particularly those with families, also “need to be on the road.” The fact that Princeton’s downtown also serves as the downtown for several area townships, and the desirability — or undesirability — of these municipalities creating their own central business districts in the coming years was discussed, and the absence of Latinos — the fastest-growing segment of Princeton’s population — at Saturday morning’s meeting was noted.

A glossy, 12-page “Report to the Community” describing Princeton Future’s goals (“balance, diversity, viability, and affordability”) and its eight-year history was distributed at the meeting. Mr. Sturges said that he was pleased to report that the document was produced with financing from long-time contributors to Princeton Future, as well as two new supporters, the Institute for Advanced Study, and Educational Testing Service.

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