March 4, 2020

Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Plans Arts and Infrastructure Projects

By Donald Gilpin

The Witherspoon-Jackson (W-J) neighborhood is looking to the future with optimism and significant initiatives on multiple fronts.

Last month’s W-J Neighborhood Association (W-JNA) public engagement workshop addressed four issues of importance to the community: infrastructure and improvements on the Witherspoon Street corridor, sustainability and preparation for extreme weather events, an African American Heritage Mural Project at the Mary Moss Playground, and “more than just books” at the Princeton Public Library (PPL).

Noting “extraordinary participation, interest, and enthusiasm with all presentations,” W-JNA Co-Chair Leighton Newlin emphasized the importance of coming together to become more informed and to envision the future of the community.

Infrastructure Planning

The opening session workshop featured Municipal Engineer Deanna Stockton and Construction Engineer Ian Baker presenting information, sharing ideas, and gathering feedback on possible improvements to the Witherspoon Street corridor. A community design input survey is currently available through the Engineering Department on the municipal website at

“We’re planning the entire roadway from Nassau Street to Valley Road,” Stockton said, “and we are seeking feedback from a variety of community groups and individuals.” Possibilities under consideration, she said, include new crosswalks, bike facilities, additional lighting, shelters for day laborers who wait on the street, trees and other vegetation, street furniture, and new piping to address drainage concerns.

Next year there will be a construction project from Nassau Street to Green Street, funded by a $610,000 grant from the New Jersey Department of Transportation. Improvements from Green Street to Valley Road will follow as funds become available. 

Stockton has announced that a follow-up meeting will take place on March 30 from 6-8 p.m. in the Community Room of the PPL.

Princeton Prepares

Representing Sustainable Princeton (SP), Program Director Christine Symington and  Community Outreach Manager Jenny Ludmer led a presentation on Princeton Prepares, a voluntary community initiative to help residents be better prepared and help emergency responders to better serve residents in the event of power outages, flooding, a heat wave, extreme weather, or a major disaster.

“We want to make sure that everybody, especially the most vulnerable, are prepared,” said Symington. “Climate change will affect everyone in Princeton, but it will disproportionately impact those that are the most vulnerable.”

An outgrowth of the Princeton Climate Action Plan, Princeton Prepares has been funded by Pew Charitable Trusts and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Health Impact project, which awarded Princeton a $50,000 grant to help communities address the intersection of climate change and health.

Princeton’s Emergency Services, the Health Department, and SP have joined forces to lead this initiative and to develop a registry of information that can be used to assist Princeton’s most vulnerable residents before, during, and after an emergency situation.

Robert Gregory, recently deceased Princeton director of emergency services, was, Symington said, a driving force in the creation of Princeton Prepares.

Symington emphasized that residents should register with the Extra Assistance Registry if they live alone and would need assistance during an emergency, have a hearing or visual impairment or other physical or cognitive limitation, require mobility assistance, rely on supplemental oxygen or refrigerated medication, or have limited English language skills and would need assistance during an emergency. Assistance is free, voluntary, and confidential.   

Heritage Mural Project

Project plans for the W-J African American Heritage Mural continue to develop on schedule, as lead project organizer and director of Joint Effort Princeton Safe Streets John Bailey announced an anticipated unveiling of the mural at the Mary Moss Playground at the corner of John and Lytle streets in August.

“This Mary Moss Playground site is a historical magnet of memories, youthful lessons, and everyday experiences for those old and new to the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood,” Bailey wrote in an informational flyer. He described that location as “the perfect site for an African American historical art project reflecting the African American experience in Princeton,” citing dozens of names of families and individuals who have lived in the W-J neighborhood and enjoyed using the Mary Moss Playground over the years.

Bailey has met with Princeton Council, the Historic Preservation Commission, and other local organizations and artists. The mural project has won support and ideas from more than 200 current and former residents, Bailey said, and is now in the process of ongoing fact-finding and fundraising.

“I am standing on the shoulders of my ancestors, also on the shoulders of people who care about the community,” Bailey said. “We have a consensus. We’re moving in the right direction.”

“More Than Just Books”

Leading an informational discussion about the PPL, Library Community Engagement Coordinator Kim Dorman spoke about some of the ways the PPL tries to serve Princeton in carrying out its mission to “engage, inspire, educate, and unite everyone in our diverse community.”

Dorman noted, “A lot of people wanted to share different library services they had benefited from, so I ran around the room handing the microphone to almost half the room as they enthused about library programs, services, and staff. It was very heartwarming.”

Newlin added, “I was amazed at how much I did not know about our own library. Great information was shared by Kim and the people who attended the meeting and provided additional insight that was more than just books.”