Why I Don’t Live In Trenton

Trenton. (click to expand)

The short answer is “white privilege”. I can afford Princeton, and Princeton is pretty awesome. But as an urbanist, I actually *want* to live in Trenton. It’s affordable, diverse, has a real sense of character and history, and great transit links. I go there regularly for the  great urban cycling scene. So why not live there full-time, instead of in Princeton? It keeps coming up. Every time I say that Princeton needs more affordable housing and apartments, I get “Go live in a city like New York or Trenton!! They’ve got that stuff there!”

I’m commuting anyway. Transit riders traveling from Trenton to a job in Princeton have to deal with a 1-hour commute. I do something similar. I work near-ish to New Brunswick, and my partner works near-ish to Trenton. Princeton makes sense, it splits the commute. But Trenton could also work. I could ditch the Route 1 drive (yes please!) and use transit / bike instead.

Trenton was actually the first place we looked after moving up from DC. Having lived in a city before, ‘crime’ wasn’t a deal-breaker for us. My experience is that urban crime is mostly just a nuisance, unless you are unlucky, or actively involved in the drug trade. There are horror stories, sure, but also in the suburbs.

For us, schools mattered. I really hate to say it. I am a massive fan of the Rational Urbanism blog. If you don’t know it, the author is a long-time resident of Springfield, MA, a town that, like Trenton, has seen better days. He sent his kids to Springfield public schools, despite being told he was crazy by his white friends and neighbors. And yet his kids did fine, because most of a kid’s education comes from her family. And yet I remember being put up against a wall when I was at public schools back in the day, and it didn’t help my education much. Probably that happens in Princeton schools too, but I bet not as much as in Trenton. Go private? Even with the high taxes in Princeton, it can be a good deal compared to private schools if you’ve got a couple of kids.

Even if we didn’t have kids, or if we chose to send them private, Princeton is still just a really attractive place to live compared to Trenton (if you can afford it). It has a great library, stores, coffee shops and restaurants. The scene around Palmer Square and Hinds Plaza on a summer evening is pretty idyllic. By comparison, Trenton can seem pretty barren, especially at night. Trenton has its ball-park, and the state government, but people seem to just drive in and drive out to those things. The things that make me want to stay are places like Trenton Social or Mill Hill Tavern, and there aren’t enough places like that. There’s also something else: the suspicion that if I moved to Trenton, I would never fit in: I’d always be seen as a white gentrifier or too much of a square. I can totally understand and empathize with that point-of-view, but I also have a job to do.

I don’t think it’s Trenton’s job to make me want to move there, and I don’t run Trenton down when talking to folks from out of state. But right now, I’m staying in Princeton. We have a lot of good urbanism here too, and our town can get better and better.

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4 Responses to Why I Don’t Live In Trenton

  1. Walkable Princeton. Thank you for what I consider a positive article about Trenton.
    Because I don’t see your name listed I not sure but I would guess our paths have crossed.
    I would love to chat with you and give you my tour of Trenton.
    In addition to Trenton Social and the Mill Hill section, Trenton is diverse and eclectic, bike able (as you know) walkable and because it’s only <7.5sq mi a small town.

  2. Ilovemytown says:

    Wow this article is at best utter bologna. You don’t want to move to Trenton because it’s just to “black” for you to live. But it is black enough for you to see all of the urban sights for you and your families entertainment. Go figure.

  3. Deon says:

    I agree with the comments in the article. I’m black and middle class (attorney) but I chose to live in Trenton. The city can easily be fixed. Just need a Governor and Mayor who gives a damn. Its quiet at night and no one is hanging out. I work in Manhattan so I just walk to the train station. No driving, at all.

    As far as being white in the city, no one cares. The author will be fine. There’s a lot of white people who live there as well as work in the city. I would estimate that Mill Hill is 60 percent white. My advice is to buy low, sale high. Buy a nice house there in a decent area and in a few years you will make a killing because eventually the gentrification movement is going to move to Trenton. Same thing happened to Brooklyn.

    PS… Princeton is nice though. Lol

  4. Nene Morgan says:

    By the good grace of good listen to me when I say some of the most successful people in the world come from some of the most harshest cities in America.Its not where you come from its where you plan to go.Everynight I pray to Jesus and ask him to watch over me and my family in such a harsh environment and he does.Im African American and guess what I am a square compared to the more urban crowd.Watching StarWars and eating hummus has put me in the square box literally but my peers respect me because I accept everybody for who they are and I never look down on a person because of their walk of life.Im originally from Bridgeton NJ (which use to be a beautiful place before it was run over by violence) It has been hard for me living up here I had to adapt to my environment which means not backing down and standing my ground.But sometimes I do worry about this city it can be dangerous…But there are some peaceful ,cheerful ,safe places in Trenton…..you just have to do your research

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