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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