January 10, 2024

By Anne Levin

Per Tengstrand

For several years, Per Tengstrand has led Music on Park Avenue, a chamber music series held at Scandinavia House in Manhattan. A few seasons ago, he discovered a group of musical talents at Princeton University and invited them to perform as part of the series.

“It turned out that the top players in that group were absolutely fantastic,” said Tengstrand, an award-winning pianist who plays internationally and lives in Princeton. “So we continued.”

Along the way, Tengstrand has been hoping to feature these talented players closer to home. He has finally made that idea a reality with the Princeton Chamber Music Series, which debuted last weekend in Channing Hall at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Princeton on Cherry Hill Road. The series will continue throughout the spring with three more concerts and a screening of a film by Tengstrand, Beethoven: Freedom of the Will.

“For many years, it felt a little silly that we were all in Princeton and we went to New York City, but did not play in Princeton,” Tengstrand said. “There was not a venue I found here that would fit. Then all of a sudden on a sunny Saturday morning, I checked out the Unitarian Church. Channing Hall has fantastic acoustics and a big Steinway piano. And it’s eight minutes from my home.”

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January 3, 2024

BATTLE COMES TO LIFE: The annual reenactment of the Battle of Princeton at Princeton Battlefield State Park is expected to be bigger than ever this year, with participants representing both sides. (Photo by Al Pochek)

By Anne Levin

Judging from the statistics, interest in local history is big.

The crowd at the annual Christmas Day reenactment of Washington crossing the Delaware is said to have included some 10,000. And registration for the 247th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Princeton in Princeton Battlefield State Park, set for Sunday, January 7, is well above the previous year.

“We’re preparing for bigger and bigger attendance,” said Todd Quackenbush, communications spokesperson for the Princeton Battlefield Society (PBS). “We’re going to have about 300 reenactors on the field, with artillery on both sides, giving a more realistic feel for how the battle proceeded.” more

By Anne Levin 

Once again, the bridge on Washington Road over the D&R Canal has been closed to motorists. But unlike last year, when the span was unavailable between the end of July and the end of October, this round is expected to last only until January 13.

The New Jersey Department of Transportation closed the bridge Tuesday morning between Nursery Road and Faculty Road, to allow replacement of the temporary bridge bearings, installed during the first closure, with permanent bearings. But local access has been maintained between Route 1 and Nursery Road.

Several detours will be in place until the work is completed. Those traveling southbound on Washington Road will be directed to turn left on Faculty Road, turn right onto South Harrison Street, turn right onto Route 1 southbound, and then stay right on Route 1 to take the “All Turns” lane to County Road 571/Highstown/Princeton back to Washington Road. more

FLAMENCO FIRE: This summer, the dance studio at the Arts Council of Princeton will be named for Lisa Botalico, who has taught Spanish dance there for 25 years.

By Anne Levin

When Lisa Botalico moved from New York to Princeton with her family in 1998, she worried that her flourishing career as a flamenco dancer, teacher, and choreographer would suffer.

But it wasn’t long before the Arts Council of Princeton hired her to teach. Two levels of classes soon grew into eight. Botalico, whose students will perform as part of the Arts Council’s “Dia de Los Reyes Magos” (Three Kings Day) celebration on Saturday, January 6, is a mainstay of the nonprofit — so much so that starting in June, the organization’s dance studio will bear her name. more

December 27, 2023

“WE WANT CHMIEL!”: On March 20, about 170 demonstrators — students and parents — at Princeton High School (PHS) called on the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education and Superintendent Carol Kelley to rescind their decision to remove Frank Chmiel as PHS principal. Chmiel was not reinstated, and Kelley later resigned. (Photo by Charles R. Plohn)

By Donald Gilpin and Anne Levin

Steeped in history and tradition but changing every day, Princeton seemed to gain momentum in 2023 in its role as a hub of innovation in government, education, culture, political activity, and entertainment. The weekly Town Topics calendar of events was packed this year, but all that activity did not come without conflict and debate, as one look at the “Mailbox” section would show. more

December 20, 2023

By Anne Levin

At a presentation on Monday in the Chancellor Green Library at Princeton University, a new hub for artificial intelligence (AI) was announced by Gov. Phil Murphy and University President  Christopher L. Eisgruber.

A collaboration with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, the initiative puts Central New Jersey and the University at a key position in the AI boom. On April 11, the University and the state will cohost a conference designed to bring together leaders of industry, academia, and government to discuss AI and its capabilities.

AI is defined as the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems. Murphy said AI has the capability to help find new cures for diseases and new solutions for battling climate change.  more

TRIMMING AND MORE: Led by professional arborists, students from Trenton Central High School and Rutgers University were among those who participated in the “Work Day” on December 2 to help care for trees in Cadwalader Park.

By Anne Levin

Every year, members of the New Jersey Arborists Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture (NJAISA) volunteer for a “Work Day” at a site where trees need attention. This year, it was Trenton’s Cadwalader Park.

On December 2, more than 150 volunteers fanned out in the 105-acre urban forest designed in the 1890s by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Joined by partners from the City of Trenton, New Jersey Tree Foundation, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, New Jersey Nursery and Landscape Association, and several other organizations, they removed hazardous trees and stumps to make the park safer for visitors. They reestablished the lawn to provide space for new trees that will be planted in the near future, and they pruned and rehabilitated some of the very mature trees that date back to the original planting of the park.  more

By Anne Levin

The Princeton Senior Resource Center (PSRC) has a new name. As of January 1, the 49-year-old organization that serves four generations of people, aged 55 to 105, will be doing business as the Center for Modern Aging in Princeton.

The new name reflects changes in the way older adults see themselves, and are seen by those around them.

“It’s a conversation that began several years ago, before I came on board,” said Chief Executive Officer Drew Dyson. “It’s about the language used for older adults in the community. Many don’t identify themselves as seniors. That terminology just doesn’t reflect who more

December 13, 2023

By Anne Levin

Princeton Council approved an ordinance Monday night amending the parking regulations on Witherspoon Street between Nassau Street and Paul Robeson Place/Wiggins Street, eliminating the free 30-minute parking in what is known as the service lane in front of Small World Coffee, Jules Pizza, and adjacent businesses.

The ordinance designates the service lane as Loading Zone Only between 6 and 10 a.m. on weekdays and Saturdays. Use by non-commercial vehicles during those days and hours is prohibited.

Parking is allowed in the service lane from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. on weekdays and Saturdays, and from 6 a.m. Sundays to 2 a.m. Mondays. Parking will be metered for up to 90 minutes from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and from 1 to 8 p.m. on Sundays.

The rest of Witherspoon Street north of Spring to Paul Robeson Place/Wiggins Street will be metered for up to 90 minutes from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 1 to 8 p.m. on Sundays. more

FEZZIWIG AND FRIENDS: As Ebeneezer Scrooge, Joel McKinnon Miller is at the center of the action at the Fezziwigs’ Christmas party in “A Christmas Carol.” (Photo courtesy of McCarter Theatre)

By Anne Levin

Joel McKinnon Miller has a distant memory of seeing A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis when he was in high school. Other than that trip in his home state, and taking his own children to a production years later in Los Angeles, the actor’s association with the Charles Dickens classic has been limited.

But since signing on last June to play Ebeneezer Scrooge in McCarter Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol, on stage through December 24, Miller has immersed himself in everything Ebeneezer — down to his genuine mutton-chop whiskers. And he figures he has read the script, adapted by director Lauren Keating, every day since he knew he had the job. more

By Anne Levin

Anthony Roth Costanzo
(Photo by Matthew Placek)

In a YouTube video from 2013 titled Opera in the Bronx, countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo sings an aria to a roomful of middle school students to demonstrate how music can convey sadness. Some of the kids giggle at the first sound of Costanzo’s voice, which is comparable to a female contralto or mezzo soprano. But within a few minutes, they are rapt. Some tell him, afterward, that they were nearly moved to tears.

“I loved doing that,” said Costanzo, reminded of the video during a telephone interview in advance of his appearances January 13 and 14, at Richardson Auditorium, with the Princeton Symphony Orchestra (PSO). “The opportunity to create exciting points of access for audiences is something I’ve really committed to. How do we engage in this form, which can seem foreboding?”

Costanzo, 41, is an internationally acclaimed opera superstar. He is also a producer and curator. A list of his accomplishments, awards, and artistic achievements, both before and after he graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton University in 2004, is beyond impressive. Yet he seems as proud of his participation in the recent launch of the new purple M&M character as he is of his performances at the Metropolitan Opera House, Carnegie Hall, Versailles, and the Kennedy Center — to name just a few. more

December 6, 2023

By Anne Levin

Princeton Planning Board’s unanimous vote last week to approve the municipal Master Plan came after more than five hours of public testimony, mostly from residents who urged the board to delay voting until more research and public discussion.

But the board, which presented the plan after more than a year and a half of work including open house events, surveys, interviews, and special listening sessions, opted to proceed. More than 225 people attended the Zoom meeting, which was the second of two public hearings on the issue. The November 30 hearing was scheduled because time ran out before all of those signed up at the first one on November 9 had a chance to comment.

The meeting began with a presentation by the town’s planning director Justin Lesko, outlining some tweaks based on meetings with Historic Preservation Commission and historian Clifford Zink. Lesko also said he had met with residents from Battle Road, Ober Road, and Newlin Road to address concerns about proposed density. more

THE WAY IT WAS: The Old School Baptist Meeting on Broad Street in Hopewell was the subject of a painting done in 1869.

By Anne Levin

When Hopewell Public Library Director Barbara Merry was planning the library’s December Speaker Series, formerly known as Wednesday Night Out, she asked some past participants if they had any ideas for a presentation.

Among them was archaeologist Ian Burrow, who suggested doing a talk on the history of the Old School Baptist Meeting on Broad Street in Hopewell Borough. Since then, what started out as a single lecture has grown into an evening program with six presentations on different aspects of ongoing efforts to preserve the key historic site.

“The Old School Baptist Meeting of Hopewell: New Research, Investigations, and Plans,” will take place at Hopewell Presbyterian Church on Wednesday, December 13 from 7-8:30 p.m. Burrow, who will talk about the 1747 graveyard associated with the church, is also the moderator. more

By Anne Levin

Michael Pratt

Michael Pratt

Since becoming the conductor of the Princeton University Orchestra in 1977, Michael Pratt has written countless program notes for the concerts the ensemble performs at Richardson Auditorium and on tours throughout the world. But he had never written fiction — more specifically, historical fiction — until the pandemic put a pause to his regular routine.

That’s when he began to imagine a story that would combine the two most important things in his life: music and love. The Copyists, about a 21st century pianist who travels back in time to 1785, where he works for his idol, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, came out this past fall.

Describing the book as “Outlander meets Amadeus,” Pratt said that the book “kind of wrote itself.” The first version was 110,000 words, and he hired someone to get it down to 95,000. more

December 1, 2023

By Anne Levin

Having listened to comments from some 80 residents — half at a public hearing on November 9, half at a second hearing on Thursday night — the Princeton Planning Board voted unanimously 9-0 to approve the municipal Master Plan that was first presented to the public last month. Last night’s Zoom meeting, which lasted nearly five and a half hours, was attended by more than 230 people.

While many urged the Planning Board to hold off on voting, some members of the public spoke in favor of approving the plan.

The document has been the subject of controversy in recent weeks. In the past few days, there was a petition signed by nearly 1,000 residents asking the board to hold off on a vote, a FAQ explaining points of the plan written by Planning Board Chairwoman Louise Wilson, an open letter from the Princeton Board of Education (BOE) saying leaders of the School District were not given enough opportunity to provide input, and a letter from Wilson in response.

Board of Education President Dafna Kendal read the BOE’s November 28 letter, which was addressed to Princeton Council and the Planning Board, at the meeting. In addition to stating the BOE was not sufficiently consulted in the crafting of the plan, the letter addresses the payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreements with developers of three apartment complexes going up in town. The schools do not receive funds from any of these PILOTs. Wilson read the letter that she wrote in response to these concerns.

After the last member of the public delivered a comment last night, members of the board issued comments of their own. Board member and Princeton Councilman David Cohen said “Change is hard, and people would rather pretend that it is possible to keep Princeton just the way it is. Unfortunately, people are also conflating this plan update with large, new multifamily developments currently going up in town. These developments are part of our court-mandated affordable housing settlement and are completely independent of and unaffected by the Master Plan revisions. They should not influence our deliberations.”

Cohen also pointed out that none of the people who urged the board to delay the vote offered alternative solutions. more

November 29, 2023

By Anne Levin

As of Tuesday afternoon, 688 people had signed a petition started by the Princeton Coalition for Responsible Development (PCRD) urging the Princeton Planning Board to pause the approval of the Community Master Plan.

The plan, which has not been updated since 1996, was presented by the town’s Planning Board last month, and was the subject of a public hearing on November 9. Because time ran out before all of those signed up had a chance to comment, the Planning Board has continued the hearing to its meeting this Thursday, November 30 at 7 p.m. on Zoom.

Municipal staff and consultants have been working on the plan for the past year and a half. Surveys, interviews, open house events, and special listening sessions were included in the process. But the petition calls for more public input.

“As residents of Princeton, New Jersey, we are deeply concerned about the proposed Draft Master Plan, which up-zones many properties to allow for increased density on each lot,” the petition begins. “This proposed plan could have serious unintended consequences due to proposed changes to the land use plans. It appears that there has been a failure to take into account the impact on our environment, existing infrastructure, schools, property taxes, traffic and parking conditions, and even our mature trees. Princeton is known for its beautiful green spaces and historic charm. The current up-zoning proposal threatens the very characteristics that attract residents and visitors to Princeton.”  more

By Anne Levin

During a work session at its meeting Monday evening, Princeton Council heard a report on the proposed renovation of Community Park South, the 26-acre expanse bordered by Route 206, Birch Avenue, Community Park School, and Community Park Pool.

Since last February, a steering committee made up of municipal staff; two members of Council; and representatives from the Princeton Environmental Commission, the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, the public schools, and other stakeholders — along with Suburban Consulting Engineers — have been holding public meetings and soliciting information through public surveys.

Seven possible concept designs were considered before the Princeton Recreation Commission recommended Concept A, “following strong considerations that whenever possible open space for structured and unstructured play should be provided, and that mayor and Council should work to provide additional parking convenient to the site,” according to a letter sent to Mayor Mark Freda and Council last week. more

By Anne Levin

The disintegration of local journalism was the impetus for a day-long forum that will take place Saturday, December 2 at Princeton Public Library. But panelists and speakers taking part in “Journalism in Democracy” are not necessarily predicting a scenario that is all gloom and doom.

“The collapse, nationally, of local journalism as a resource for communities across the country is part of this, and there are a number of themes,” said Cliff Robinson, the library’s public humanities specialist. “The main thing we wanted to convey is while there is a lot of reason for alarm, there are also things people can do. It doesn’t have to be a completely pessimistic take.”

Panelists for the event come from Princeton University, Rutgers University, The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), and the media.

Following check-in at 10 a.m., the first panel discussion is “Democracy, Citizenship and the Power of the Powerless” with Dan-El Padilla Peralta, associate professor of classics at Princeton; Rachel Devlin, associate professor of history at Rutgers; and Stanley Katz, president emeritus of the American Council of Learned Societies. Christopher Fisher, associate professor of history at TCNJ, is the moderator. more

November 22, 2023

By Anne Levin

During the pandemic, a federal moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent was put into effect. Since the moratorium ended on January 1, 2022, figures on evictions — and subsequently, homelessness — have been climbing.

This is especially troubling to the Eviction Prevention Emergency Rental Assistance Team of Housing Initiatives of Princeton (HIP), the locally based nonprofit that assists individuals and families confronting housing insecurity.

“We have seen a real uptick in our rental assistance applications,” said Kathy Taylor, who is part of the team. “I was just looking at some research that DCA [the Department of Community Affairs] put out saying that evictions were up five percent from 2021 to 2022, and I’m sure it’s much higher since the moratorium stopped.”

HIP tries to keep renters from being evicted by assisting them with back rent. So far this year, the organization has helped 75 households, up from 40 in 2022. “It’s going to end up being more than double that, and we still only assist 15 percent of everyone who applies,” said HIP volunteer Jill Wolk.

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VIRTUAL VISITS: This year’s house tour sponsored by the Historical Society of Princeton includes the circa 1890 Shadowmawr, at left, and a 1954 home on three scenic acres, right.

By Anne Levin

The four properties showcased on the Historical Society of Princeton’s (HSP) 2023 house tour follow the virtual format introduced by the nonprofit during the COVID-19 pandemic. What may have seemed initially jarring to patrons of the annual fundraiser has become a more widely accepted way of letting people in.

Instead of one day of opening, which risks the threat of bad weather, the virtual model keeps professionally produced videos of each property open, online, from November 27 all the way through December 31. The houses — which range in origin from the 1760s to 1954 — were chosen for their representations of history, architecture, and outdoor setting.

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NO SHUSHING: During one matinee of “A Christmas Carol” at McCarter Theatre, the usual rules of audience etiquette are relaxed so those with autism, ADHD, dementia, and sensory sensitivities can attend with their families and feel comfortable.

By Anne Levin

When the curtain goes up on McCarter Theatre’s December 10, 1 p.m. performance of A Christmas Carol, midway through the December 6-24 run of the show, the audience isn’t likely to quiet down. In fact, talking and other modes of vocalizing are welcome.

This “relaxed” performance of the Charles Dickens classic is tailored to patrons with differences such as autism, Tourette syndrome, and ADHD. The doors of the auditorium remain open. The house lights are kept partially on. Everyone is welcome to leave and come back in. The usual audience rules of etiquette do not apply.

“The intention is to welcome anyone who would benefit from a non-traditional theater experience,” said Brooke Boertzel, McCarter’s director of education. “This includes autism, PTSD, social anxiety, and even parents with very young children or babies, who can’t take them to a traditional show. This is a situation where expectations are relaxed, as long as they’re keeping themselves and others safe.”

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November 15, 2023

By Anne Levin

After hearing from more than 30 of the approximately 160 people who signed on to the November 9 public hearing held over Zoom about the proposed Master Plan, the Princeton Planning Board opted to continue the hearing to its next meeting on November 30 before making a decision on whether to vote in favor of the plan.

In the meantime, the Master Plan is the focus of a meeting on Saturday, November 18 of the non-governmental community group Princeton Future, being held from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. in the Community Room of Princeton Public Library. The meeting, also available virtually at princetonlibrary.libnet.info/event/9547479, is billed as a conversation rather than an opportunity for comments limited to three minutes, as is the format at municipal meetings. more

COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS: A Princeton institution since 1993, Small World Coffee celebrates its 30th anniversary next month with special events and offerings at its Witherspoon Street location, shown here, and its Nassau Street store, as well as several locations throughout town. (Photo courtesy of Small World Coffee)

By Anne Levin

Last September, Small World Coffee co-founder Jessica Durrie read a column in the New York Times about the surgeon general’s report on loneliness in America. The report cited loneliness as an epidemic — more dangerous to health than obesity, smoking 15 cigarettes, or downing six alcoholic drinks in a day.

The column, by Nicholas Kristof, made Durrie profoundly sad. Since its inception three decades ago, Small World has valued the cultivation of community connections as much as the creation of perfect house blends. The 30-year anniversary of the company was coming up, and she knew she had found a theme. more

By Anne Levin

Rian Julka

Five years ago, Rian Julka’s mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Parkinson’s disease (PD). When the pandemic forced the family into lockdown a few years later, Julka — then a middle school student at New York City’s Trinity School — knew that her condition made his family especially compromised.

Julka put together a spreadsheet to help his mother. Through social media, the spreadsheet evolved into a resource for people all over Manhattan who were coping with lockdown. The spreadsheet helped them find what they needed, and post what they could offer others. Word got out, and local press outlets picked up the story. While still in middle school, Julka was recognized for his efforts by Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine.

Since then, the family has moved from Manhattan to Princeton. Julka is a junior at The Lawrenceville School.

The spreadsheet became the inspiration for moversandshakers.info, a website developed by Julka that offers Parkinson’s patients information on medical research, clinical trials, and tips to slow down progression of the disease. The site also sponsors a podcast that is hosted on Apple and Spotify.  more

November 8, 2023

By Anne Levin

The online meeting of the Planning Board on Thursday, November 9 at 7 p.m. is a chance for members of the public to comment on the proposed rewrite of the Princeton Master Plan. The draft of the document, which was 18 months in the making, was shared with the public at a Planning Board meeting on October 31, but no public comments were taken at that time.

Residents can read the 270-page final draft of the plan online at princetonnj.gov/339/Master-Plan or engage.princetonmasterplan.orgmore