What lies ahead for the Princeton Junction train station, the subject of this week’s cover story, is of interest to lots of central New Jersey residents (including the architect whose letter arrived just last week, in a case of perfect timing, and is printed below).

The station is not only the epicenter of rail transportation in this area, but it is also the center of the proposed bus rapid transit system that land planners throughout the county are citing in their work. Now, if some residents of West Windsor have their way, it may also be the focal point of some major new redevelopment activities designed to give the township center a sense of place.

We at U.S. 1 are interested because we own our offices here on Roszel Road (which is technically in West Windsor, even though the address is Princeton). So we join the crowd that would love to see more amenities with no increase in property taxes. (One amenity could be an ambulance station on our side of the train tracks — a comforting thought at rush hour.)

And we also have a “sister” paper, the biweekly West Windsor-Plainsboro News. For all the reasons you might expect (more commerce that could turn into advertising customers, for example), the News would also be in favor of a healthier and more dynamic town center. Given that disclosure, we turn your attention to page 36.

Corrections

In the homes for sale listings in last week’s residential real estate issue we gave an incorrect price and unit number for a condominium listed by Martha Stockton of Stockton Real Estate (609-924-1416). The condo is located at 105 Olympic Court, Number 7, in West Windsor. It is listed at $254,900. We apologize for the mistake, which gave the unit number as 107 and the price as $154,900.

To the Editor:

We’re Getting Closer To Better Villages

by Bob Sussna

There has been a great deal of interest and discussion lately in the papers and between people about transit villages, village centers, and the real underlying issue of how and where we work, live, and travel together. The open public attention to these issues is long overdue and exciting to those of us who have been trying for a long time to make good buildings and places. Even though we are a long way from where we should be, we’re getting closer.

Only in America. When we Americans think village or town, most of us mean a building with space around it. Ask a European and it means just the opposite, a public space formed by buildings, and cars on the outside. A piazza, a plaza, or square. And public spaces linked to each other in a network for people to stroll through, surrounded by texturally-rich building surfaces, landscaping, and details. And maybe even the schools should be integrated into part of this tight village instead of being outside of town like a little city of their own.

So what is a village center? How does one build one in central New Jersey? Does the actual location have some meaning tied to a historic space or event? Or do you go out in the middle of a soybean field and build a brown brick building, put in the police station, boro clerk, and tax collector, and a huge parking lot and voila, you have a “Village Center.” I think not.

It seems to me that villages should contain many different kinds of places to eat, (restaurants, bistros, trattoria, pubs, etc.), food markets, a small general store, cleaners, and possibly weekly outdoor markets for fresh produce, etc. The mix is very important, and the more variety the better. It must be a place for people to hang out and shop, eat, pay bills, and see other people. And it must not have masses of cars in the middle.

Can the idea of a center work here? I certainly think so. The Village Center in Plainsboro is a good start. Given some time, it will reach its potential. The proposed Transit Village at Princeton Junction could be another, albeit bigger success. What is especially nice to see are the drawings of these places that show people on foot, trees, and shaded places to sit.

Also important is the orientation to the sun of these outdoor spaces, so that they are places that are warm in the morning to bring people out, and make it possible to stay for awhile even in the cooler months. In Europe, stores do their stocking deliveries and trash removal at certain stipulated hours of the day, when people are not there (just like the malls).

And if you are staying in a inn in the center of the plaza, you are only allowed to bring your car in to drop off things at restricted times, and then you must take your car out to a parking place. Yes, we should have inns or B&Bs right in the center. And offices and apartments above are also necessary. And it should be in walking distance from where many live. Unless you have a critical minimum mass of people living, not just working there, it won’t work.

Exorbitant (exorbitant only by what we are used to, as gas is $10 or $12 per gallon in Europe) transportation costs may bring the European model closer to realization here. Because it is a people-driven model it would be a richer and more enjoyable experience, while saving lots of money on gas. When it costs $80 or $100 to fill your tank this summer will people like transportation villages more? Probably. Maybe something good can come from inflated oil prices? Will this model work for Americans? They work hard, acquire some money, and go to Europe and fall in love with the villages. Will they like them here? I surely hope so.

In Germany, if you own a big farm outside of town you are not permitted to subdivide to build lots of houses on your farm. You must house your workers in town and they take the train to work. You can take a train to just about any tiny hamlet in the country so you can get to the city or the farm. It works.

I think we are either ready or close to it. Many planning boards in New Jersey are buzzing with master plans and actual development applications for village schemes. Let’s make sure they really contain the necessary elements to be real villages. We will all enjoy the benefits.

Bob Sussna founded his Princeton-based architectural firm in 1970. Now semi-retired, he is also painting watercolors.

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