February 16, 2022

Princeton Future Offers “Walk to Coffee,” New Format for Connecting, Conversing

“I WALK TO COFFEE”: Princeton Future, seen here at a 2018 public gathering, is inviting anyone interested to join them outside on Sunday, February 27, for a walk from The Hun School on Edgerstoune Road to Sakrid Coffee on Nassau Street. This first of a series of walks will be led by Marina Rubina, a local architect and Princeton Future council member, accompanied by Hun School “neighborhood ambassador” and writer Eve Coulson. (Photo courtesy of Princeton Future)

By Donald Gilpin

On February 27, Princeton Future will be hosting “I Walk to Coffee,” the first in a series of events that promise to be quite different from its traditional public meetings arranged to explore issues of concern to local residents.

“In these uncertain times for indoor gatherings, going on a walk could be a fun and safer way for meetings and personal connections,” states Princeton Future’s flier promoting the event. “How far would you walk to get a good cup of coffee? What if you walk with friends? What if you are exploring secret paths or scenic routes while making new friends?”

The February 27 inaugural walk to coffee, meeting in front of The Hun School at 176 Edgerstoune Road and proceeding to Sakrid Coffee on Nassau Street (and back), will be led by Marina Rubina, a local architect and member of the council of Princeton Future. She will be joined by Hun School “neighborhood ambassador” Eve Coulson, who is a writer, Princeton Zoning Board member, longtime supporter of Sustainable Princeton, and an avid walker.

Rubina said that the origins of the walk-to-coffee idea began some time ago when she attended a Princeton Future talk by Alain Kornhauser, Princeton University professor of operations research and director of the Program in Transportation, in which “he put into words what I already subconsciously knew: driving kids to school is incredibly unsustainable.” Reality being what it is, however, she “continued to drive and feel guilty.”

Then this fall she decided to try something new. “I left my car at the Princeton Shopping Center near the school and walked to my office at TigerLabs on Nassau Street,” Rubina wrote in an email. “It turned out to be a 15-20 minute walk. I couldn’t believe how pleasant it was. When I arrived at my office, Small World was right there. So here I was on my first ‘walk to coffee.’”

The Princeton Shopping Center had always seemed far away from her home near the center of town, but, Rubina recalled, “My morning ‘walk to coffee’ got me thinking: ‘What if people who live a bit further away don’t realize that they have the option to walk to fun things once in a while?’ I knew that Eve Coulson lived near The Hun School. She loves her neighborhood and is a strong supporter of all things walkable and sustainable.”

Coulson and Rubina got together for a test walk. “Eve and I explored beautiful streets, got stuck in thorny bushes, climbed in muddy creeks, tested a hypothesis about an alley of trees and had to turn around multiple times,” said Rubina. “Can you tell we had a blast?”

The February 27 walk will include a street route to Sakrid Coffee with a small shortcut that can be muddy, then a “nature and park-like route on the way back,” according to Rubina. “How fun is it to have multiple ways to go that are so incredibly different?” she said.

Anyone interested in participating should come to The Hun School at 1 p.m. on Sunday, February 27, and Princeton Future urges anyone who has an idea for a walk or would like to become an ambassador for their neighborhood to contact Princeton Future at princeton.future.2035@gmail.com.

Rubina talked about future walks and her hope to visit other neighborhoods that aren’t necessarily thought of as “walkable.” “Is it possible to get from Littlebrook to Small World on foot?” she asked. “Where can we start and get to LiLLiPiES bakery in a reasonable time? We hope to connect with neighborhood ambassadors who are interested in helping us explore neighborhoods they love. There are no set agendas apart from discovering new paths, questioning our notions of ‘walking distance,’ and sometimes getting our shoes muddy.”

Another inspiration for this walk-to-coffee event, Coulson recalls, was a recent chamber of commerce breakfast talk by Jeff Speck, advocate for more walkable cities and author of Walkable Cities and Suburban Nation. Coulson and her family moved to Princeton from the Upper West Side of New York City in 1990 and “loved being able to walk outside sans elevators and doormen, and I still love gazing at the night sky, away from city lights.”

She also loves the Edgerstoune neighborhood. “I have lived in the neighborhood for almost 30 years and collaborated in starting our neighborhood email group and a few block parties,” she wrote. “It might be my Midwestern point of view showing, at least the idealized version of neighborhood in which people get to know, share stuff, and enjoy hanging out together.”

On the initial walk to coffee, Coulson says, she is looking forward to “seeing who and how many show up, and talking about some things along the way that may be new or surprising to some.” She mentioned the Springdale neighborhood as a likely possibility for a future walk.

Princeton Future Co-Founder and Administrator Sheldon Sturges is also eager to join the February 27 walk and to engage in some “gentle conversation” along the way.  “It’s going to take a long time to get to Sakrid on Nassau Street,” he said, suggesting that along the way he might be asking some essential Princeton Future questions, like “What do you like about Princeton? What would you like to see happen here? What kind of a town do you hope we’ll have in 2035?”

He added, “The hope is that Marina and Eve will gather somewhere between five and 20 walkers on February 27. If we had 10 to 20 of these walks and thousands of people came, wouldn’t that be wonderful?”