Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 8
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
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Why Is Alexander Street Only Option For University’s Arts Neighborhood?

Marilyn Aronberg Lavin
Maxwell Lane

Steadman Historic Alley Association Urges Support of Arts and Transit Plan

Tom Chapman
Chairman

Some Thoughts on How to Solve The Arts and Transit Breakdown

Toby Taylor
Richard Court

“Free Access” to University’s Library: Princetonians Deserve a Quid Pro Quo

Ralph Perry
Random Road

Revaluation Mess Latest Phase In Shrinking of a Community

Jacqueline L. Swain,
Lytle Street

Freedom of Expression in America Thwarted in February 2003, 2011

Rev. Robert Moore
Coalition for Peace Action


Why Is Alexander Street Only Option For University’s Arts Neighborhood?

To the Editor:

Alexander Street winds from Route 581 all the way to Mercer Street. Early in the morning it is solid, bumper-to-bumper. It is the same going the opposite direction in the evening rush hour. From the Canal bridge to WaWa the land configuration is as narrow as a swan’s neck. Why must we think of cramming a complex, audience-enticing, traffic-quadrupling, travel-confusing project into that constricted area? Making the McCarter Theater vicinity into an enlarged “culture” center is a red herring. Princeton itself is already a culture center; why don’t we take advantage of what already exists?

The school building at 185 Nassau Street is underused. The University already owns it. There is a perfectly good building; a gracious site; even extra parking space behind on Williams St. It can be approached from several directions, by car and on foot, obviating the Dinky - Transit question. If necessary, the covered space of the current building could be expanded in all directions, on the ground and up in the air. Surely an imaginative architect could turn the location into an important civic locale in its own right, functional, practical, and beautiful.

Marilyn Aronberg Lavin
Maxwell Lane

Steadman Historic Alley Association Urges Support of Arts and Transit Plan

To the Editor:

Steadman Historic Alley Association, Inc. is an organization of nine property owners whose houses adjoin the intersections of Alexander and Mercer Streets. Given that our houses are approximately of a mile from the original site proposed for Princeton’s Arts & Transit Center, we are highly engaged with issues concerning traffic, location of the Dinky Station, and other pertinent factors that could impact our neighborhood environment, quality of life, and property values. Our Board recently discussed the Arts & Transit Neighborhood project and is aligned with the Princeton University plan presented at the Borough and Township Council meeting on January 31, including the proposed site on Alexander Street and the relocation of the Dinky terminus. Accordingly, we encourage the Borough and Township to expeditiously find the common ground to move forward with the project as outlined by the University.

Tom Chapman
Chairman

Some Thoughts on How to Solve The Arts and Transit Breakdown

To the Editor:

The latest spat over the Art/Transit neighborhood is a breakdown in negotiation skills by our elected representatives. The University employs vinegar through Mr. Durkee’s threatening comments whilst the voters’ representatives reply with honeyed words on the basis that the municipalities have little or no leverage. We do have leverage and it should be pursued.

The community is being asked to give up a very useful and convenient transportation hub for basically nothing except inconvenience. Suddenly, the project has gone from $100MM to $300MM based on undocumented promises of jobs, the boost to the economy, and presumably continuation of a community donation. Some of the elected officials appear to have asked no questions, but rather offer apologies. If this continues, the Arts/Transit neighborhood will be a carbon copy of the situation where major sports teams threaten to leave if a city or a state does not build them a stadium. Our situation differs since the University cannot leave.

Two ideas:

Why not involve Mr. Lewis, who is the primary donor? Reportedly he was very influential in selecting Mr. Gehry and the design of the new science library. Basically, would he object to having the current Dinky location incorporated in a new building? The idea of a partially below-ground stop makes sense. Mr. Lewis has obviously been very successful in part because he listened to consumers.

Alternatively, we should consider selling the zoning approval for, say, $100MM payable upon approval. This amount would pay for the inconvenience as well as lost contributions. This amount is fair considering future costs and inconvenience caused by the construction. Clearly, the University will balk, but let’s engage their economists to review the time value of money and social contracts with the community. Forget any discussion about tight budgets as the University has easy access to the bond markets.

We need to negotiate and the municipalities need some spine. There are several people with negotiating skills in town if help is needed.

Toby Taylor
Richard Court

“Free Access” to University’s Library: Princetonians Deserve a Quid Pro Quo

To the Editor:

In a public release by both the Princeton Public Library (PPL) and the Princeton University Library (PUL) (“University Access is Available,” Town Topics Feb. 16), it was announced that from now on four free daily passes to PUL will be available to all Princetonians who are members of the Public Library. Currently it cost $30 for a weekly pass; no daily passes are available.

This did not go far enough, Princetonians had free access to Firestone until about 20 years ago when Donald W. Koepp, a Princeton University official, announced that henceforth Princeton community members will be charged a fee to enter a PUL.

Quoted in Town Topics, he cited “damage, theft, and overworked staff,” implying that a person paying a fee to enter the library will not steal books.

A police investigation eventually found a Princeton University student in whose apartment they discovered some 2,000 stolen books, about 1,000 of them from Firestone.

Despite that discovery nothing was done to restore the community’s free access to PUL.

Community outcry and letters to PU encountered a wall of silence, while University students continued to get free membership in the Public Library.

At present, 7,802 PU undergraduates and graduate students have free membership in the Public Library and can borrow all the books they need 365 days a year, when the library is open, and now about 30,000 Princetonians are allowed four (4) passes a day, a total of 1,460 passes a year. Moreover, community members still will not be allowed to borrow books from PUL.

Does the old theft stigma still prevail?

The move to get access to Firestone was started last June by the community and public officials talking to PPL, PUL and PU. It took eight months to move the Tiger a few feet forward, no surprise there, since the Dinky talks have been going on for four years.

Restoring the old system in which the community is treated by PUL in the same way as the University students are treated by the Public Library is the right thing to do. If the University Library can’t find a way to do it maybe the Public Library, which is heavily supported by public tax payments, should charge the University students the non-resident annual $35 membership fee.

Ralph Perry
Random Road

Revaluation Mess Latest Phase In Shrinking of a Community

To The Editor

I was born in Princeton in 1944 and lived in the area in Princeton relegated for African Americans. Yes, I was born into segregated Princeton. My great grandparents owned a house or two on old Clay Street. At the time of my birth, the JW (John-Witherspoon) area had already been pushed from Nassau Street to the area which contained the town dump and slaughter house. Let’s be frank about this, this was the area of town in which nobody else wanted to live. I am sure my people did not want to live there either, but this was the height of Jim Crow, “separate and definitely not equal.”

The homestead was demolished (eminent domain) by the time I was in grade school. Four generations of my family had to scatter and live wherever they could find lodging in a town which was racially divided, and places to live for African Americans were scarce. Fortunately, my grandparents had resources and purchased another house in Princeton in a predominantly Italian neighborhood. Public Housing is now where old Clay Street was. Unfortunately many others were never ever to regroup and purchase other homes in Princeton.

History will bear out the fact that the local government (different people, like minds) oversaw the steadily shrinking African American community decade by decade:

• Loss of homes and businesses for the Beautification of Nassau Street (Palmer Square) African Americans were owners of record of homes and businesses on upper Witherspoon Street, Nassau Street, Baker Street, Nassau Court, Hulfish, and Jackson Street. All that was not moved to Birch Avenue was lost.

• Demolition of Jackson Street; more families displaced.

• Tear down on Witherspoon for high end condos.

• Tear downs on Shirley Court for units unaffordable to former tenants.

• General gentrification of the John Witherspoon area over the past three decades.

• Absentee landlords whose highly inflated rents breed overcrowding. One landlord in town actually tried to rent an acquaintance of mine a space for a cot for $500 per month. Officials seem to turn a blind eye to the landlords who can easily pay their taxes.

• Tear downs on every street in the JW community. Rebuilds selling for 1 million or more. More gentrification.

• The recent property revaluations.

• Several neighbors who HAVE to sell and move.

• Elderly neighbors taking reverse mortgages in order to stay in their homes.

• Elected officials signed off on an agreement with an appraisal company which delivered flawed goods. The JW community’s disproportionately higher revaluation compared to greater Princeton. My lot (30 feet x 31 feet) increased 4 fold. In a nation where housing sales are down by 27 percent.

It’s time for new elected officials!

Jacqueline L. Swain,
Lytle Street

Freedom of Expression in America Thwarted in February 2003, 2011

To The Editor

On February 15, 2003, over 12 million people demonstrated around the world to try to stop the Iraq War from being launched, the largest demonstration in world history.

In New York City, the scene was hard to believe. One million Americans tried to come to a rally at the U.N. I say “tried” because I personally witnessed the New York City police behaving in ways that were more like those of a dictatorship than a democracy. As a result, only half of the one million who came to peacefully demonstrate got to the rally.

We in the Coalition for Peace Action took hundreds to New York by train. When we arrived, the police had blocked many routes to the rally site, near the United Nations. Those who tried to get through were sometimes run over by police on motorbikes, other times charged by police horses. There were thousands of illegal arrests that day. And almost no media covered this deeply troubling story.

Those who were arrested, including several of my relatives, were deprived of food and bathrooms for 24 hours or more. They were also asked about their organizational affiliations in a way that was reminiscent of McCarthyism. The ACLU later sued and forced those records to be destroyed. This was what “freedom” in the United States of America looked like eight years ago.

Exactly eight years later, on February 15, 2011, Ray McGovern, a former U.S. Army officer and 27-year CIA veteran (who I know personally) peacefully protested at a speech in Washington by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Ironically, her speech was about respecting the right of free expression, like that now sweeping the Arab world.

But when Mr. McGovern stood up and turned his back to protest her failure to forthrightly support those peaceful demonstrators, Ms. Clinton’s guards, including a uniformed policeman and plainclothes official, dragged him off and double handcuffed him, piercing his wrists and causing severe bleeding. He was put into a tiny cell with no medical treatment, and when released, had to take a cab to the hospital to be treated.

If this is what freedom of expression looks like in America, the idea that we have first amendment rights is largely a fiction. Most of us don’t realize that because we seldom, if ever, exercise those rights. I strongly condemn this blatantly hypocritical behavior, and call on Secretary Clinton to publicly apologize.

Rev. Robert Moore
Coalition for Peace Action

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