Who needs an arts neighborhood anyhow? That’s the thought that’s dancing in my mind as I hoof three blocks from my house to the Arts Council of Princeton to hear Princeton University roll out a presentation of its proposed new “arts neighborhood” for the corner of Alexander Street and University Place, in the area of McCarter Theater, the Dinky train station, and the Wawa store.
While I may be slightly distracted, a horde of other people gang up on the architects posing with their scale models of the proposed arts neighborhood, much of what presumably will be financed by a $100-plus million gift from Peter Lewis of the Class of 1955, the chairman of Progressive Insurance. At around 7 p.m. the throng migrates to the Arts Council’s 120-seat theater and fills it to SRO capacity for the formal presentation.
Princeton professor and poet Paul Muldoon makes the case for the expanded campus by saying that the arts-related activities will help make Princeton play a role not just “in the nation’s service,” as its motto used to declare, or “in the service of all nations,” as it has been recast recently, but also in “the imagination’s service.” As I read between the lines of Muldoon’s introduction, I think he may be saying that the performing and visual arts on this end of campus might help give some know-it-all undergraduates some humility and lead to a Princeton that becomes “in the community’s service.”
It’s a nice thought, and it just might help sell this major expansion of the university campus to a community that already feels a little overwhelmed by the university and its attendant traffic congestion.
The university’s architects are clearly trying to make the arts neighborhood look more like the solution than the problem. The revamped configuration of University and Alexander would lead to a more efficient roundabout replacing the traffic signal. Terminating the Dinky line about 300 feet closer to Route 1 would enable the station and the Wawa to be relocated to that point, freeing their present location for a public open space.
This relocation of the Dinky has already generated some criticism from town planners, who argue that even 300 feet is a huge distance when you are trying to encourage pedestrians and other non-motorists to make a connection with mass transit. I agree. But, as I look over the detailed scale models on display, I can see the university’s point: The relocated Dinky removes a section of train track that would bifurcate the new arts neighborhood, and thwart easy access to the university’s large parking garage already located near the site. And the area has become a hub for various bus and jitney services, as well as the Dinky train.
In other words, it’s a good show. But even though 120-plus other people are enthralled, I’m ready to give up my seat at the arts neighborhood presentation. Sorry, I think, but I have an arts neighborhood of my own, in my own basement. Today is the first day of FiOS at the Rein home, and I can’t wait to get back to the large screen, high def television, the interactive capabilities, the DVR, and hundreds of channels.
I realize that most of the media savvy people in my audience made this leap to advanced digital cable years ago. But I have been waging a grudge match against the cable company for more than a decade (the last of several straws: one of their technicians wired the top floor of my house by drilling a hole through an outside wall, stringing a wire along the siding of the house, and then drilling another hole through the wall where I wanted service). So instead of signing up with that firm I have been waiting patiently for the cable competitor, Verizon, to wire my street.
Today was that day. I had endured the 45 minutes on the phone to order the service, and I had set aside a full day for the installer to wire the house.
The Verizon guy spent the last half hour giving me a crash course in using the system: How to watch this, while recording that; how to schedule a recording far in the future; how to dial up the weather while watching your show, and so on. When he offered to show me the parental controls, I demurred.
On my way back home, eagerly anticipating the show I have been recording as well as what other entertainment delights that will emerge from the several hundred channels, I wonder how often I will make that 12-minute walk across campus to the new arts neighborhood when I can walk 12 seconds down to the 40-plus inch window into this brave new digital world.
I get home to some harsh realities. I did not successfully set the DVR and I do not have any show saved for posterity. As I try to watch another show, the screen keeps lighting up with an announcement: “This is your reminder that the Stephen Colbert show is about to begin.” I figure out how to remove the reminder, but it keeps returning. And eventually the TV switches to Colbert. My 14-year-old has been playing with the remote, I realize. He, apparently, has given a different meaning to the “parental controls.”
So maybe I do need the arts neighborhood after all. I hope that, “in the community’s service,” there will be ushers to lead me to my seat, and a printed program, preferably in large type, to tell me what I am watching.