November 8, 2023

FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS: Celebrating Diwali at the Princeton University Chapel, Vineet Chander, the University’s assistant dean of Hindu life, carries the light that triumphs over darkness, as good triumphs over evil. More than 300 people attended last Saturday’s Diwali at the Chapel event featuring devotional music and dance, spiritual reflections, and a celebration of Hindu culture. (Photo by Tori Repp/Fotobuddy)

By Donald Gilpin

Participants in last Saturday night’s celebration of Diwali at the Princeton University Chapel were greeted by an array of candles on the sidewalk in front of the entrance. In the chapel vestibule were more lights, with a golden statue of the elephant god Ganesh atop an altar covered with candles. Inside the towering nave of the chapel, the altar decorations and colorful costumed performers, with many more candles and lights throughout the chapel, contrasted with the building’s austere arches and walls.

Often called the “festival of lights,” Diwali, actually on November 12 this year, occurs in the Ashvin and Kartika months of the Hindu lunar calendar on what is called the moonless night. “The idea is that we gather together as a community and we light these candles as a way of bringing light into the darkness,” said Vineet Chander, Princeton University’s assistant dean of Hindu Life, who organized the “Diwali at the Chapel” program along with University student members of the Princeton Hindu Society. more

By Anne Levin

Coming out of COVID-19, the leaders of local arts organizations were looking for a way to recharge their programs and get patrons back into theaters, concert halls, museums, and other cultural venues. From their conversations, a common denominator emerged: the significant relationship between arts and health.

It so happens that the National Organization for Arts and Health recognizes November as Arts and Health Month. With that in mind, a coalition of nine arts groups formed Arts & Health Mercer, which had its official debut at the Robert Wood Johnson Fitness and Wellness Center in Hamilton Township on Saturday, November 4. more

STIMULATING THE SENSES: A new Sensory Garden in downtown Trenton has turned a vacant lot into more than just a place to grow vegetables. Plants that appeal to sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing were part of the plan.

By Anne Levin

A vacant lot near Trenton’s Battle Monument has been transformed into a public garden designed to appeal to all of the senses. Architect Ken Hill’s vision for the site stems from his desire to incorporate sustainability into the projects he creates.

Hill, a Lawrenceville native, is an alumnus of Trenton Climate Corps, which is supported by AmericCorps. The latter provides training and employment in climate resilience and green infrastructure careers, and is managed by Isles, the Trenton-based community development organization. more

November 1, 2023

By Anne Levin

In March 2022, Princeton Council passed an ordinance creating a special improvement district (SID). Now known as Experience Princeton, the organization — at first called the Princeton Business Partnership — is funded through fees paid by business owners in town.

The SID took the place of the Princeton Merchants Association, an all-volunteer, less formal organization of local businesses. Late last fall, Experience Princeton hired Isaac Kremer, former executive director of the Metuchen Downtown Alliance, as executive director. The organization’s first annual report is now at experienceprinceton.org/post/experience-princeton-annual-report.

Kremer, who gives regular, fast-paced progress updates to Council, said this week that efforts to fill empty storefronts, bring together the business community through monthly “meetups,” and more effectively spotlight the town are succeeding.

“One of the big accomplishments right out of the gate was to establish a discernible brand, with a new logo and website presence to help position us strongly, both locally and regionally, in the marketplace,” he said. “The new logo and website really describe the work we do as an organization. We have welcomed 20 new businesses to town, and have had 11 ribbon cuttings. We’re seeing the vacancy rates creep downward again. And I get five or six requests a month from businesses that want to move here. The process begins, and we try to find a good fit.” more

PIANO TIMES FIVE: The Princeton Pianists Ensemble turns playing the instrument into a collaborative activity, with up to 10 musicians performing at one time. The group comes to Richardson Auditorium on November 17.

By Anne Levin

Most piano recitals are performed by one musician at one piano. Less common are concerts for four hands — two pianists at one keyboard.

How about 10 pianists playing five pianos at the same time? That’s the idea behind the Princeton Pianists Ensemble (PPE) at Princeton University, which turns playing the piano into a collaborative activity. On Friday, November 17, the group of some 35 amateur yet accomplished pianists performs at Richardson Auditorium, in a program ranging from Debussy to the flying theme from the soundtrack of the movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

“It’s something I don’t think you’ll see anywhere else,” said Roberto Lachner, a sophomore at the University and a member of the ensemble. Like his colleagues, Lachner was a serious piano student throughout his childhood. While there are a few music majors in the group, most are focused on other subjects. more

By Anne Levin

For survivors of cancer, regaining physical strength and stamina can be especially challenging. That aspect of recovery is the focus of Livestrong at the YMCA, a free, nationwide program designed to get adult cancer survivors back on their feet after treatment.

On hold during the pandemic, the Princeton YMCA’s 12-week Livestrong program is resuming on Wednesday, November 7, with daytime and evening sessions. The classes are 75 minutes each, taught by instructors specially trained in supportive cancer care. The program is free, and available from the day of diagnosis on.

Participants, who usually meet in groups of up to six, are given exercises and activities centered on cardiovascular and meditation techniques. But the goal is to strengthen the spirit as well as the body.

“The primary focus is building muscular strength and endurance,” said Kristin Leung, the group exercise coordinator at the YMCA. “But stepping out of that, we do expand to other modalities of wellness in general. It might be a yoga class, or water fitness. We’ve had people come in and do music therapy and art therapy. We had a survivor who brought in her chemo bottles and we decorated them. We made sushi one time. So I really welcome the staff at the Y to come if they have something special to share.” more

October 25, 2023

By Anne Levin

On October 19, Princeton’s Planning Board heard a presentation on the new Community Master Plan. Public comment was not part of that meeting, but residents will be able to ask questions and air their views of the plan at a public hearing on November 9.

Municipal staff and consultants have been working on the current version of the plan for the past year and a half. Efforts to engage the public during the process have included surveys, interviews, open house events, and special listening sessions. Details are available at engage.princetonmasterplan.org.

New Jersey law requires that a Community Master Plan, a kind of municipal road map for land use and development with details about circulation, hazard mitigation, climate resilience, conservation, utilities, and most aspects of the built and natural environment, be updated every 10 years.

Princeton needs more housing, especially small dwelling units, said consultant Michael Sullivan of the firm Clarke Caton Hintz. The overall goals for land use in the plan are not for overdevelopment, but “are to create a unified zoning ordinance, focus higher residential density within and around the downtown and in mixed-use centers, and maintain progressively lower densities outside the downtown,” he said. more

MOVE-IN READY: Princeton Community Housing’s (PCH) new complex of 25 apartments for very low-, low-, and moderate-income residents is fully completed.

By Anne Levin

When Princeton Community Housing (PCH) was created in 1967 to help provide safe, affordable housing in Princeton, Jim Floyd was among its founders. In recognition of the work the late Floyd and his wife, Fannie, devoted to the nonprofit and the wider community, PCH has named its new 25-unit complex for very low-, low-, and moderate-income apartments in their honor.

The Jim and Fannie Floyd House at Princeton Community Village’s Sassafras Row, off of Bunn Drive, is now open, and its residents have either moved in or are about to do so. A naming and ribbon-cutting this Saturday, October 28 marks the occasion. more

By Anne Levin

On October 17, a packed audience filled Witherspoon Hall for a community forum devoted to development of the Tennent/Roberts/Whiteley campus of Princeton Theological Seminary. James P. Herring of Herring Properties, the contract purchaser of the site, presented a concept plan for a 238-unit apartment complex, 48 of which would be designated affordable.

Council President Mia Sacks introduced the program, noting that the town’s redevelopment team vetted Herring’s concept over the summer. The forum, the third to be held on the proposal, was intended as a “kickoff” to the formal process of adopting the plan.

The town’s redevelopment counsel Steve Mlenack told the audience that two meetings of Princeton Council, a Planning Board meeting, and a public hearing are involved in the process. Following that, the town will negotiate a redevelopment agreement with the developer before the regular site plan review is undertaken.

The Seminary had originally considered building new student apartments at the site, which was designated an area in need of redevelopment in October 2018. But the plans for student apartments were withdrawn by the Seminary in the fall of 2019. Last year, three early 20th century buildings considered beyond restoring were torn down.  more

October 18, 2023

By Anne Levin

At a community forum Tuesday evening, October 17 on development of the Tennent/Roberts/Whiteley campus of Princeton Theological Seminary, contract purchaser James P. Herring was to present concept plans for the apartment project he hopes to build at the site.

The forum at Witherspoon Hall, the third on the subject, was to be held after press time. Herring, owner of Herring Properties, shared some details of his plans in advance of the meeting.

The five-acre site is to have 238 units, including 48 affordable apartments integrated throughout the complex. Buildings are to be three-to-four stories, with stone and stucco exteriors. Underground parking and open space are part of the plan. The main entrance is off Stockton Street. The core of the development, the four-story part, is the most internal.

“There is no mass building along the streetscapes,” Herring said. “We’ve tried to be respectful of the architecture of Edgehill Street, which has old, traditional, narrow houses tight to the road, and Hibben Road, which has bigger lots and bigger houses. All along the neighbors’ properties, we’ve tried to be very respectful. So we went way beyond the existing setbacks against abutting properties. Then, we stepped back.” more

SPEAKING OUT: Rich Swingle, left, takes on the character of anti-slavery Quaker John Woolman, shown in the only known drawing of him, at a performance of “I Dreamed I Was Free” at Morven on November 2.

By Anne Levin

More than a century before the Civil War, the topic of slavery was being debated in the colonies. On the floor of the Philadelphia Yearly Quaker Meeting of 1758, a man named John Woolman addressed his fellow Quakers with “Some Consideration of the Keeping of Negroes,” leading the Society of Friends to recognize the evil of slavery and form a committee to visit those Friends who kept slaves.

Woolman’s efforts are the basis of I Dreamed I Was Free, a one-man play to be performed by its author Rich Swingle on Thursday, November 2, at the annual fundraising gala of the Witherspoon-Jackson Historical and Cultural Society (WJHCS). The public is invited to attend the event, taking place at Morven Museum and Garden, 55 Stockton Street, at 7:30 p.m. more

By Anne Levin

Staff members from Sustainable Princeton and The Watershed Institute weren’t sure what to expect when they advertised a four-hour landscaping workshop focused on green infrastructure, geared toward local landscapers, and presented in Spanish.

But the event held September 23 at The Watershed Institute drew 16 landscapers from six locally owned businesses, ready to learn about New Jersey’s new stormwater management law, how rain gardens work, and the rules for working in Princeton.

“I was very pleased at how many people turned up,” said Christine Symington, executive director of Sustainable Princeton. “We really didn’t know what kind of attendance we would get. And we had a very positive response from the attendees.” more

October 11, 2023

By Anne Levin

Following a presentation by Clay Emerson of engineering consultants Princeton Hydro, Princeton Council approved a resolution at its Monday, October 9 meeting to proceed to the next phase of a Stormwater Utility Feasibility Study, for an amount not to exceed $149,853.

More frequent and more severe rainstorms have increased the problem of stormwater runoff in Princeton. A stormwater utility is a mechanism to raise sufficient funds for management of stormwater, and allocate its costs more equitably.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed the Clean Stormwater and Flood Reduction Act into law in 2019, giving municipalities the ability to create stormwater utilities and establish fees. More than 40 states already have them, but there are none so far in New Jersey, according to Emerson. “You are one of the first municipalities to consider this,” he said.

Council first considered creating an ordinance for a stormwater utility in 2021. Princeton Hydro was brought on in 2022. more

FRIENDS FOR LIFE: Members of the Latin American Women’s Group of Princeton, which has provided a touch of home to Latinas since 1983.

By Anne Levin

Four decades ago, three women met in Princeton to share a cup of coffee and speak Spanish together. Married to non-Latinos and missing their native cultures, the women had encountered each other by chance, and decided to meet.

That initial coffee date was the seed for the Latin American Women’s Group of Princeton, a lively group that now numbers some 25 members who are natives of 11 Latin American countries. On Saturday, October 14, the group will celebrate its 40th anniversary with a party at the Nassau Inn.

“You have to understand, 40 years ago there was hardly anybody around here who spoke Spanish,” said Alice Faroh, current president of the group. “These women — Irene Wynne and Marta Vega from Venezuela, and Cristina Naithani from El Salvador — missed their language and their culture. When Irene happened to hear the other two speaking Spanish, she grabbed them.” more

By Anne Levin

Back when it was known as Lawrenceville Prep, the Lawrenceville School played host to Hollywood for several scenes of The Happy Years, a film based on Owen Johnson’s series of Lawrenceville-based stories set in the 1890s.

Johnson was a member of the class of 1895. His years at the school inspired the series that, in 1949, was turned into a feature film. In celebration of Lawrence Township History Month, The Happy Years will be screened on Thursday, October 19 at 5:30 p.m. at the Lawrence Headquarters Branch of Mercer County Library System. Jacqui Haun, Lawrenceville School archivist, will introduce the film and be on hand after the screening to answer questions.

“The stories were originally published serially, in magazines like the Saturday Evening Post,” Haun said. “They were made into a series of books, which were widely read, sort of like Tom Brown’s School Days. So Lawrenceville became well known because of those books.”  more

October 4, 2023

By Anne Levin

Back before the pandemic, ushers at McCarter Theatre Center were a dedicated group who volunteered their time taking tickets, leading audience members to their seats, and solving any squabbles over seating at concerts, recitals, plays, and dance performances.

Once the shutdown ended and audiences began to return, the theater switched to paid ushers. But a new joint venture between McCarter and other popular Princeton University venue Richardson Hall is poised to bring volunteers back to McCarter. Richardson, which paused its schedule during the pandemic, has remained volunteer only. The Joint Ushers for McCarter and Princeton (JUMP) initiative aims “to build an enthusiastic, committed, and diverse group of volunteer ushers,” according to richardson.princeton.edu/jump, a website devoted to the effort.

A second program is geared to high school students, who can count volunteer ushering toward their community service requirements while getting close access to the performing arts.

“There has always been an overlap in our different usher programs at McCarter and Richardson,” said Ayame S. Whitfield, usher program coordinator for the University’s Performing Arts Services. “There was always potential for an actual joint venture. The pandemic hit the arts community very hard. Coming out of it and rebuilding our programs was an opportunity to work together and strengthen the arts community.” more

TAKE WHAT YOU NEED: This SHUPP community garden at the Princeton YMCA is among more than 10 in town that invite anyone who needs produce to pick what is ripe.

By Anne Levin

At a meeting of Princeton’s Human Services Department with some community stakeholders a decade ago, the topic of food insecurity among Princeton children was raised. Asked how many youngsters would qualify for that classification, most people thought there were about 10, or maybe 20.

“The answer was 300 to 400 kids. Everybody’s mouth dropped,” said Ross Wishnick, chairman of Human Services at the time. “This really was not acceptable. Because we have sufficient wealth in this town to solve it.”

That gathering was the seed of Send Hunger Packing Princeton (SHUPP), a nonprofit founded by Wishnick to provide food to anyone in the school system who asks. Wishnick and the many volunteers who have assisted will gather at Hinds Plaza on Sunday, October 8 from 12 to 2 p.m. for a 10th anniversary celebration. The public is invited to stop by and learn about SHUPP’s programs, which include free community gardens, a hydroponic learning system, the stocking of local pantries, and a weekly produce program that serves nearly 200 families. more

CELEBRATING A LIFE AND ARCHIVES: Alma Concepción, whose career has encompassed classical ballet and Spanish dance as well as years of teaching, has donated her papers to Princeton University. A celebration in honor of the collection is on November 2. (Photo by Jennifer Cabral)

By Anne Levin

The papers of Puerto Rican dancer, choreographer, scholar, and popular dance teacher Alma Concepción are now part of Latin American Collections at Princeton University’s Firestone Library.

A Princeton resident since the 1980s, Concepción is familiar to alumni of Princeton Ballet School for her classes in Spanish dance and ballet from 1983 to 2011. She has also taught at the Arts Council of Princeton, at Rutgers and Princeton universities, and at Taller de Danza, a children’s and dance community organization in Trenton. A two-part event celebrating the opening of the Alma Concepción Collection, “Dance, Literature, and Comunidad,” is on Thursday, November 2 at two campus locations. more

September 27, 2023

GOING GREEN: Sustainable homes such as “Mrs. Brown’s Lucky Oyster Bar” are open to the public on Saturday, September 30 as part of a tour presented by the Princeton Environmental Commission and Sustainable Princeton. (Photo by Jeffrey E. Tryon)

By Anne Levin

Most house tours open the doors to mansions that boast rooms done up in high style by interior design professionals. At a tour of five Princeton homes and two gardens on Saturday, September 30, a different focus is in play.

The first-ever Green House Tour, sponsored by the Princeton Environmental Commission (PEC) and Sustainable Princeton, invites visitors into homes where sustainability is the priority. They even have titles: “Mrs. Brown’s Lucky Oyster Bar,” “The Hello Sunshine, Goodbye Gas House,” “Leedin’ on Linden,” “Bloomin’ on Birch,” and “The Radically Radiant Retrofit.” more

By Anne Levin

Is ChatGPT an enhancement or a threat to creativity? At a panel conversation on October 3 at Princeton Public Library, the focus will be on how the artificial intelligence chatbot (ChatGPT stands for Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer) is a tool to assist and inspire rather than limit human creative endeavors.

“Creativity in the Age of ChatGPT,” to be held in the Community Room from 6 to 7:30 p.m., is co-hosted by the library, the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, and the National Humanities Center. The discussion delves into how the chatbot “has kindled imaginations and stoked debate since it was launched by OpenAI in November 2022,” according to a release from the Council for the Humanities.

“I see this as the beginning of a conversation, so I anticipate more events like this to come,” said Carin Berkowitz, executive director of the Council for the Humanities. “When ChatGPT arrived, we saw a lot of hand-wringing in the newspapers. There seemed to be conversations tinged with alarm in our community. more

September 20, 2023

By Anne Levin

It took several attempts over nearly six decades, but Princeton Township and Princeton Borough were finally consolidated into the municipality of Princeton on January 1, 2013.

The 10th anniversary of this milestone is being celebrated on Thursday, September 28 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. with a public party at the municipal complex. Everyone is invited to hear remarks from State Sen. Andrew Zwicker, Mayor Mark Freda, and Princeton Councilwoman Michelle Pirone Lambros, followed by live music and refreshments.

Many of the people who worked to make consolidation a reality will be on hand. Prominent among them is Liz Lempert, who was the first mayor of the newly consolidated municipality, and served in the post until 2021.

“Every step along the way was effortful and it required an enormous amount of work from elected officials, municipal staff, and citizen volunteers,” she said in an email this week. “Chad Goerner [former Princeton Township mayor] in particular deserves a huge amount of credit for moving the initiative forward in a thoughtful, open, and methodical way.” more

THE PIANO IS THE STAR: Cristina Altamura will inaugurate the Altamura Legacy Concerts, featuring the Steinway piano now installed at Princeton United Methodist Church, on September 24. (Photo by Maria Grazia Facciolá)

By Anne Levin

When concert pianist Cristina Altamura inherited a 1924 Steinway “B Grand” piano from her mentor, pianist Jody Wise, she knew that the beautifully crafted instrument was too special to keep to herself. Three years and a major restoration later, the piano is the centerpiece of a new concert series debuting Sunday, September 24 in the Sanford Davis Room of Princeton United Methodist Church (PUMC).

The Altamura Legacy Concerts will launch with a performance at 4 p.m. featuring Altamura, tenor Fanyong Du, soprano Katie Lerner Lee, and pianist Binna Han in a program marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. Performances in different musical genres, most of which are focused on the historic piano, continue on four more Sundays through April 7, 2024.

“I had already been teaching in a space at the church, and was having recitals in the sanctuary,” said Altamura, who lives in Princeton with her husband, So Percussion’s Adam Sliwinski, and son Guillermo. “The piano they had was an old Yamaha. I saw that they had this beautiful living room area, with Tiffany stained glass windows. And I had this beautiful instrument that I didn’t want to just keep in my house. It all started to make sense.” more

By Anne Levin

The recent listing for sale of Jasna Polana, the 18-hole, 225-acre golf club on Route 206 and Province Line Road, has prompted some speculation that the municipality might be eyeing the property as a site for redevelopment.

Not so, according to a statement last week made by Mayor Mark Freda and Princeton Council President Mia Sacks.

“We are aware that the Jasna Polana golf course property is currently being marketed for sale, and that initial advertisements for a potential sale suggest the possibility of a ‘comprehensive redevelopment of the site consistent with Princeton’s Master Plan update.’ On behalf of the governing body, we wish to make explicitly clear that there are no current plans to investigate or consider designating the Jasna Polana golf course property as an area in need of redevelopment. Although the Master Plan update process is still ongoing, there have been no indications thus far that this property will be recommended as such.”

It continues, “Any implication in the marketing materials for Jasna Polana that a more dense project, or expansion of uses beyond what is allowed under the current zoning will be permitted, is unwarranted. No amendments to the current zoning ordinance for this site are contemplated by Princeton Council at this time.” more

September 6, 2023

By Anne Levin

South Brunswick Police and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are asking residents and businesses if they have any recorded video footage related to the fatal helicopter crash last Thursday that took the life of a 44-year-old man.

Pilot Josef Yitzhak, an Israeli, had taken off from Princeton Airport in a single-engine Robinson R22 in the late afternoon when he crashed into the woods and landed in a stream off of Lakeview Avenue, on the border of Princeton and South Brunswick Township.  more

FROM SHAKESPEARE TO MORRISON: The sign for the famed Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company, left, and the original cover art for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel “The Great Gatsby” are among the rare items on display in a new exhibit at the Milberg Gallery of Princeton University Library.

By Anne Levin

Seven years after William Shakespeare died in 1616, his friends gathered the scattered texts of 36 of his plays into a folio edition. Among them: Macbeth, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, and The Winter’s Tale — classics that would have been lost to posterity if not for the friends’ efforts.

Three copies of that “First Folio of 1623” are among the literary treasures on view at “In the Company of Good Books: From Shakespeare to Morrison,” at Princeton University Library’s Milberg Gallery through December 10. Along with the plays of Shakespeare, the exhibition includes representations of works by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Sylvia Beach, Chinua Achebe, and several others, up until the time of Toni Morrison. more