Yesterday we reported about twelve different ‘Princeton’ communities in the Central Jersey area. From ‘Princeton Gardens’ to ‘Princeton Oaks’, these communities are united by their use of ‘Princeton’ in their name, and the fact that they aren’t actually in Princeton. That’s not to say that they aren’t nice places to live. Many of the residents in these suburban ‘Princetons’ are no doubt very happy with their homes there. But there are some big differences between newly-consolidated Princeton, NJ and these other communities in the suburbs.
The first key difference is affordability. Equivalent homes in Central Jersey outside of Princeton are less expensive than homes in Princeton. You can ask any realtor and they’ll tell you this is true. We previously analyzed the price difference, and found that homes in Princeton can be up to double the average price of homes elsewhere. Many people, including highly-paid professionals, quite reasonably see that their housing needs can be met for much less money elsewhere. Housing prices are limiting the type of people who can live in Princeton.
It’s fine for people to find a home that suits them outside of Princeton. But suburban Princeton communities are also united by another key feature: they are car-dependent. Last week, we looked at ‘Walkscore’, a tool for measuring how easy it is to access stores and amenities without using a car in any particular neighborhood. We used WalkScore to estimate how walkable twelve suburban ‘Princeton’ neighborhoods are (see graph above). The scores were all low, ranging from 15% for ‘Princeton Manor’ to 42% for Princeton Highlands, with an average Walkscore of 29%. These scores are considered to mean that ‘most’ or ‘almost all’ activities require use of a car. By contrast, the old Princeton Hospital site, where a neighborhood group is trying to downzone walkable development, has a Walkscore of 83%, meaning that ‘most errands can be accomplished on foot’.
It is clear that if we want to enable people to live a car-free or car-lite lifestyle, we must allow more development on urban walkable sites, not less. Statistics show that people in Princeton are far more likely to walk to work than people in other Central Jersey communities. This is obvious when we consider the Walkscore ratings of suburban ‘Princeton’ communities, as it’s difficult to walk anywhere from these places. Increasing the supply of walkable housing is the single most valuable thing we can do to reduce car use and release of greenhouse gases.
Many people would prefer to live a walkable lifestyle in Princeton. Suburban Princeton communities are specifically marketed as ‘close to Princeton’, even though any trip to downtown Princeton will require use of a car. Unfortunately, people are being denied a fair choice between living a walkable lifestyle versus a car-dependent lifestyle, because too many Princeton residents seek to prevent the addition of much-needed housing in Princeton’s walkable core. Stopping development is not an option. The population of Central Jersey is growing. This is a good thing; we don’t want to be Detroit. The choice for Princeton is whether we require people to live in LA-style sprawl communities, paving over our few remaining green fields and wooded areas, or do we allow people the choice to live in compact, walkable developments in downtown Princeton? For us here at Walkable Princeton, this is an obvious choice.