To the Editor:
Not in Our Town (NiOT) compliments the Princeton Planning Board, Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods, the AvalonBay developers of the former hospital site on Witherspoon Street, and others for the earnest effort they are making to create homes for an estimated 280 individual and family units that will serve these residents, their immediate neighbors, and the Princeton community at large.
NiOT is an interfaith, interracial social action group that has been working in Princeton for about 15 years. In addition to our programs, we have taken public, as well as private, stands on a number of issues that pertained to our mission, in particular its focus on issues around race. Examples are the community pool, the organization of the police department, keeping the Human Services Department and Commission, public rejection of the distribution of racial-hate and anti-semitic literature, and support of our Latino immigrant community.
Some of us have attended a number of the Planning Board hearings around the AvalonBay project. We noticed the absence of any direct reference to race or class, though we often felt it as an undercurrent in the room. These are certainly matters of importance for this project. It is long since time to be clear about them, whether looking at the impact on surrounding neighborhoods, or the creation of a sense of neighborliness and community within the development itself.
For example, from the information we have received, most of the 56 affordable units have been clumped together in the least desirable locations in the complex. This is contrary to what we expect the spirit of the project to be as well as what we understand state rules to require. This spirit could be better met if the affordable units were spread quite evenly throughout the development.
Also, the hospital site with its buildings has been a barrier between the Witherspoon-Jackson area and the Harris-Jefferson area, thus dividing a neighborhood that has been, historically, largely black — as well as, more recently, Latino — from a neighborhood that is largely white. But, as a hospital, these buildings served an important public purpose. Now, with the withdrawal of the hospital from this site, our community has an opportunity to create a use which helps to integrate the two sections and furthers the goal of respect for all persons, whatever their race and whatever their economic or social status.
We hope that a vision that includes connection among new and existing residents, appreciation for the history and well-being of existing neighborhoods, an integrative approach to housing decisions, and welcoming public spaces, will guide this and future development plans and implementation.
Fern and Larry Spruill