March 22, 2023

Witherspoon-Jackson April 1 Meeting: Exchanging Ideas, Building Community

By Donald Gilpin

Three high-interest agenda items will be the focus of a meeting of the Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Association (WJNA) on April 1 at 9:30 a.m. in the auditorium of the Arts Council of Princeton’s Paul Robeson Center.

Featured speakers will include Darell Wayne Fields, designer and Princeton University visiting research scholar, who will speak on “Black Architecture: An Introduction,” and a trio of local engineers — consultant project manager Tejal Patel, of T&M Associates; Assistant Municipal Engineer Jim Purcell; and Deputy Administrator and Municipal Engineer Deanna Stockton, who will be presenting a concept review on Phase III of the Witherspoon Street Corridor Project.

Also on the agenda is the introduction of Onome Olotu, the Paul Robeson Center’s Artist in Residence.

“This WJNA meeting will showcase building community through collaboration and an exchange of ideas and information on historic preservation as it relates to the neighborhood streetscape, art, culture, and infrastructure — all elements that inform and impact quality of life,” said WJNA Co-Chair and Princeton Councilman Leighton Newlin.

Fields will discuss his contributions to Operation Phoenix, the renovation of American Legion Post 218 located on Lytle Street in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood. The concepts for the project emerged from an independent study project that Fields’ students became interested in and brought back to the school for further exploration, development, and vision studies.

In a Tuesday phone conversation, Fields emphasized his focus on “a space where students, faculty, and stakeholders in the neighborhood can come together to have meaningful conversations about design and its impact in the neighborhood.” He added, “We are trying to cultivate a meaningful exchange between the school of architecture and the neighborhood.”

Fields, whose book Architecture in Black is the first systematic analysis of theoretical relationships between architecture and Blackness, has taught design, urbanism, and theory at several universities. At the April 1 meeting he will share his practice and research innovations on Black architecture, highlighting unique contributions to the field. His works have been exhibited at major museums across the country.

His professional work includes the conceptualization and design of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research (the Hutchins Center) at Harvard University. The award-winning Lyllye Reynolds-Parker Black Cultural Center at the University of Oregon represents Fields’ Black aesthetic in built form.

Bringing design concerns closer to home, the final item on the agenda will zero in on the portion of Witherspoon Street between Leigh Avenue and Valley Road, the continuation of the Witherspoon Street Improvement Project into its third phase.

Citing the mixed use of lower Witherspoon for houses, schools, commercial, health, and municipal facilities, Purcell emphasized, “We want to make sure we’re making this safe for all users.”

Participants at the April 1 meeting will have an opportunity to ask questions and weigh in with their own ideas, but Purcell noted that there will be improvements to pedestrian facilities, including sidewalks and crosswalks, with raised crosswalks for traffic calming and curb extensions (also called bump-outs).

There will be new trees planted to replace those removed by recent PSE&G work. Trees that don’t grow too tall, so they don’t interfere with PSE&G, will be planted on the west side of the street and larger trees on the east side, Purcell said, as well as improvements to the intersection at Witherspoon and Valley Road, with the possibility for a roundabout and traffic signal changes.

The municipality anticipates awarding a contract for Phase III work by mid-October. Phase II construction will be getting underway in May, said Purcell.

“Our presentation is the last item on the agenda, so we’ll be able to stay around if people have questions or further input on the Witherspoon Street Improvement Project,” he added.

“The meeting promises to be an enlightening and empowering experience,” said Newlin. “Tell somebody. Bring somebody. We are building community. Try not to come alone.”