October 20, 2021

Noting That It’s Time to Rethink What Is Meant by Preservation

To the Editor:

During Hurricane Irene my friend lost original artwork and books. During Hurricane Ida a friend lost irreplaceable family photos. Every resident of Princeton wants to preserve something, and this will get harder as storm flooding gets worse.

This is why I have been so disheartened by the narrow use of the idea of “preservation” when debating Princeton’s future. I appreciate the desire to slow change and to preserve some buildings along Nassau Street and in the business district. But the amount of resources spent in the name of preservation is troublesome when what is needed is a plan to fix our stormwater issues in order to preserve our city.

The devasting floods in Europe this summer were a warning to us. In a New York Times article, the mayor of a German village described how the small brook he used to play in as a child turned into a 33-foot river of water that swept his mother away. In an initial assessment of what happened, German officials noted that there was a lack of water retention reservoirs, too much impervious surface cover, and the fast-growing trees planted to harvest wood had roots that were too shallow to hold the soil. In other words, causes were linked to mismanagement and two officials were under investigation for “negligent homicide.”

Our city needs a comprehensive strategic plan to make it climate change resilient. I love the idea of Princeton University bringing more brilliant engineers and climate scientists to campus as part of the ES+SEAS development plan. But if Princeton University doesn’t apply this expertise in their own backyard, what is the point? And for the rest of us, when it comes to stormwater issues, we need to think as a “we.”

The millions spent to move a Victorian house does little to preserve Princeton when people will continue to lose precious heirlooms and struggle to preserve their homes due to increasing flooding. More importantly, the city had over eight water rescues this summer during Hurricane Ida, not to mention the deaths in adjacent towns. So, we need to add “preserving life” to how we think about preservation.

In order to save the city as a whole, whatever development decisions are made now, and in the future, must embrace a more expansive definition of preservation.

Carolyn Rouse
Wheatsheaf Lane