To the Editor,
Since my recent letter calling for increased housing in the walkable core of Princeton, I’ve received an outpouring of support for a new approach to local land use. In response, I, together with other Princeton residents, have formed Walkable Princeton, an advocacy group dedicated to calling for zoning reform that will allow more members of our community to enjoy a walkable lifestyle. We believe this is a lifestyle desired by many, good for the environment, for traffic reduction, for the tax base, for water runoff, and for livability. We intend to explain these views using the growing body of evidence supporting the benefits of allowing prudent development in the centers of towns such as our own. If you agree with and want to support this cause, please find us at https://www.facebook.com/WalkablePrinceton.
The population of the former Princeton Borough is lower now than in 1950, a result of zoning barriers that prevent the development of new housing. The cost premium for living within walking distance of campus is huge and growing, driven by the large number of non-driving internationals at the university and the even larger number of residents who actively prefer downtown apartment living. I think of the example of a grad student couple who couldn’t afford housing in walking distance of their labs and classrooms and were forced to look for housing on Route One, settling in the Avalon Run apartments behind Quakerbridge Mall. Instead of Princeton having them as walking residents, paying property taxes and spending in local retail, Princeton had them as two car commuters, struggling through the traffic bottlenecks on Route One and Alexander, parking a half-mile downhill from their labs and classrooms. This is a lose-lose situation. Bad for Princeton’s traffic, bad for Princeton’s tax base, bad for the couple’s pocketbooks and lifestyles.
My wife and I, because the cost premium for living in walking distance is so high, live in Griggs Farm. Where we once lived on Vandeventer and walked both to work and amenities, using our car only a couple times a week, I now drive through town, only to park in a garage at the south end of campus. That garage is actually farther from where I work than the old hospital site now up for redevelopment. My wife drives to Hamilton to find a parking spot for the train into the city. If we lived at the old hospital site it would be closer and faster to walk to campus and the Dinky than to use cars.
The best part of Princeton is Palmer Square and the best new addition the library plaza, both of which combine vibrant open space with population density provided by mid-rise apartment buildings. We need more such developments along Nassau Street and Witherspoon. Everyone would benefit if the demand for walkable housing is met by increased supply. It’s time for a change.