October 10, 2018

Princeton Future Explores The Growth of Princeton

By Donald Gilpin

“Growth will come to our town,” the flier noted. “The choice we have is whether to plan for that growth or just react to it.”

Launching a new visioning study for the central business district (CBD), Princeton Future (PF) attracted a group of about 45 on Saturday morning in the Princeton Public Library to work together to imagine how Princeton can develop significant new public spaces.

“Sustainability, social justice, economic health, and alleviation of tax burdens can provide the bedrock principles for a plan,” said PF President Kevin Wilkes.

In his opening speech, Regional Plan Association President Thomas Wright, a Princeton resident whose organization develops plans for the entire New York City region, argued that growth in the coming years will be slowed by limitations in housing and infrastructure.

He cited statistics showing that the suburbs are falling behind, that opportunities are limited for too many people, that there is a rising affordability crisis, that the region is increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters, and that government institutions are failing to make the decisions that need to be made.

In that context, Wilkes introduced the PF visioning study. He mentioned underutilized space in the CBD, “space that could be envisioned differently for housing and for commercial retail opportunities,” smaller spaces, and lower rents.

He cited significant surface parking areas and numerous one- and two-story buildings as examples of that underutilized space.

Wilkes then focused participants on housing needs, commercial needs, and place-making at four different Princeton locations: mid-block Nassau Street, the Park Place lot, the Griggs Corner lot, and “E=mc Square(d)” across from Firestone Library on Nassau Street.

“The conversations began. We listened to each other. We have a good start,” said PF Co-founder and Administrator Sheldon Sturges. “There seem to be ways that we might excite the property owners in the CBD of the downtown to invest in creating more places to live, especially places for the rest of us.”

PF, Sturges said, is creating design teams to envision place-making, bike lanes, wider sidewalks, office space, and residential living on each of the four sites.

“We might then suggest that as owners build, they strive to build 50-50: 50 percent market units and 50 percent non-market units,” he said. “Right now the investment in many, many sites is limited by the parking requirement. We will explore providing the incentive of trading away the existing parking requirement in direct proportion to the percentage of non-market units provided.”

In the coming year, PF promises “multiple meetings that engage participants in imagining the best for Princeton.” Sturges concluded, “Our town just might be able to remain a town that retains its historic diversity and becomes even more sustainable.”