August 3, 2022

Princeton Master Plan Committee Is Headed Down the Wrong Path

To the Editor:

I had great hope that Princeton’s Master Plan would be created by Princetonians for Princetonians, taking our varied wants and needs into account to generate a master plan that works for everyone.

We are a diverse group that includes suburban residents, downtown residents, owners, renters, landlords (residential and commercial), merchants, non-retail businesses, parents, seniors, walkers, drivers, bikers, visitors, University students, employees, etc.

Though I know that committee members work hard and have good intentions, after seeing the first survey, I have strong concerns that their process won’t get us what we need.

The first survey’s questions are slanted towards visitors and merchants. While I welcome all visitors to Princeton and consider them important to our town, most visit sporadically, while Princetonians are here every day. 

I am convinced that if we build a town that works for the residents, taxpayers, and workers of Princeton, it will continue to be attractive to visitors. If we attract and support merchants that attract and support Princetonians, the merchants will be happy, the residents and workers will be happy and the visitors will be happy. This survey doesn’t get us there.

I shared my concerns with the Committee, and it seems that others too were alarmed by the survey’s narrow focus, its visitor slant, and the fact that some questions were constructed in a way that does not allow a valid or useful response, thus generating data that is either incorrect or subject to misinterpretation — or both.

I was told that this survey is to inform the Economic Plan. When I think of an economic plan, I don’t think about shopping. I think about balancing our tax base, and activities that affect the town’s economics. Further, I find it odd to start with the Economic Plan, which should logically flow from and support the more important decisions about what kind of town we want to live in and how we make that a reality.

The survey asks about parking. As the recent parking study made clear, there is adequate parking in Princeton. Princeton should focus on helping people find that parking rather than building more parking that will sit empty more than it will be full — which would be a waste of resources, space and opportunity. This issue has been addressed and does not belong in the Master Plan.

If this merchant-centric survey is indicative of the Master Plan Committee’s thinking, then I am concerned.

The website shows a “Community Visioning” survey scheduled for September, but it is hard to have confidence that this survey will do a better job asking the right questions in the right way, and thus generating meaningful data that is not subject to mis-interpretation and mis-direction. Surveys are designed to answer specific questions. I am not convinced that the correct questions are being asked, and I am not convinced that the committee can know which questions to ask without involving Princetonians beforehand, in an informed and collaborative way.

Lauren Bender
Michelle Mews