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Princeton Future’s Goals: Diversity and Sustainability

Ellen Gilbert

“Diversity” and “sustainability” were the themes of the second Princeton Future Open Forum on Saturday at the Princeton Public Library.

Two panel discussions shaped the morning program. The first, on diversity, was moderated by Chair Emeritus of Princeton’s Sociology Department Marvin Bressler, who was joined by Moises Santizo representing the Latino Reform Youth Council; Robert Durkee, secretary of Princeton University; Marvin Reed, chair of the Master Plan Subcommittee of the Regional Planning Board; Hendricks Davis, representing the the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood; and Susan Hoskins of the Princeton Senior Resource Center.

The second panel on sustainability was moderated by Professor Robert Socoloff of the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI), and included Wendy Kaczerski, chair of the Regional Environmental Commission of Princeton, Mr. Durkee, and Mr. Reed.

“The town can learn from the university and vice-versa,” commented Princeton Future Chair and Dean Emeritus of the School of Architecture Robert Geddes before the meeting got underway. “I don’t believe this morning will result in any direct actions,” he added, “but it could be useful for identifying the problems. These two issues influence everything.” The existence of both a Community Master Plan and Campus Plan was, he said, encouraging, although he acknowledged that the length of time it takes to implement change can be “strange.”

Mr. Geddes opened the meeting by expressing regret at the recent death of former University President Robert Goheen, citing Mr. Goheen’s “great impact on the community.” He described the opening of the FitzRandolph gate under Mr. Goheen’s tenure as symbolic of his efforts to bring the University and surrounding community together.

He also noted that the day’s topics, diversity and sustainability, were “pervasive,” rather than geographically bound.

Mr. Reed began by offering a brief history of the African-American and Italian communities in Princeton, noting that the Master Plan and recent efforts at land use control, while not using the word directly, reflected concerns with diversity. Observing that young people who grew up in Princeton cannot afford to move back here, he suggested that “we’ve priced ourselves out of diversity.”

Creating diversity appeared to be less of a problem for the University, according to Mr. Durkee, who reported that among the current undergraduate population, 55 per cent receive financial aid, 37 per cent are people of color, and ten per cent come from countries outside of the U.S. This number is even higher among graduate students and faculty. Two areas of current relevance to the discussion, he said, include the removal of the wall that has fronted the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding for thirty years on the corner of Prospect Street and Olden Lane, and the University’s continuing commitment to providing housing for students, faculty, and staff, who would otherwise exacerbate the demand for affordable housing in the Township and Borough.

Mr. Santizo described the work of the Latino Reform Youth Council and a particularly well-received program for Latino high school students they sponsored called “Now What?” Mr. Davis emphasized the importance of acknowledging the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood’s history in any discussion of diversity in the community. Ms. Hoskins was the first of several people that morning to observe the presence of many over-55-year olds in the audience, a good segue to the question, where is affordable housing for the many older adults who want to remain in Princeton?

The question of affordable housing for diverse populations dominated comments from the audience following the panelists’ presentations. Bill Moran of the Whole Earth Center wondered whether the University-owned land described as the “mirror campus” could be used for a housing development that would include the University, the two Princetons, and West Windsor. Helmut Schwab suggested that the Merwick site recently purchased by the University had similar potential. Mr. Durkee responded that the members of the University community who will live in the housing that is planned for the Merwick location represent “a range of people” who usually “stay for a long time.”

Becoming Green

Mr. Socolow led off the second panel with a presentation called “Sustainable Princeton Toward Town Targets?” The University, he noted, is doing a good job of collecting statistics on gasoline use, plane travel, electricity, and use of natural gas. The Township and Borough could follow suit: “Accounting challenges are everywhere,” he observed. “Keep score. Make it fun! Challenge Colmar, our twin. Get our science teachers involved, then the kids.” Introducing the term “environmental justice” into the conversation, he warned against actions that would hurt diversity goals in an effort to achieve environmental ends, like placing a waste disposal plant in a poor neighborhood. Both Mr. Socolow and, shortly afterward, Mr. Reed, returned to Mr. Moran’s question about developing the “mirror campus” by saying that it ought to be preserved for now.

Ms. Kaczerski called for “a hundred more bike racks” around town and encouraged everyone to insulate their homes. Hoping for “synergy” between the three entities present that morning, she suggested that the Borough and the Township could be a “learning lab” for the University, which has obviously made significant strides in sustainability and diversity. Mr. Geddes seemed to concur when he commented on the “yearning on the part of the students to be out in the community.”

Princeton Future’s next open meeting is Saturday, June 7, at 9 a.m. at the Library, when the topic will be “Structures and Processes.”

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