What’s happening in my backyard? That’s what I’m wondering as I read all these reports about Princeton University’s extensive new master plan for its campus, and in particular the new arts and transit "neighborhood" in vicinity of McCarter Theater and the Dinky train station.

When I say extensive, I mean that literally. The new master plan has been two years in the making, and its recent unveiling has been preceded by various public presentations of elaborate, scale models of the new campus and by a special insert in a recent issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly. The Internet version of the plan, posted at www.princeton.edu/campusplan, shows a large format book of 180 pages. It takes about a half dozen separate downloads to move it to your desktop.

When I say backyard, I mean that only figuratively, of course. But it’s not a far-fetched phrase. In fact, as the Princeton master plan shows, one measure of the campus is a 10-minute (or half mile) walk from the Frist campus center in any direction. Within that radius, the university believes, it can consider developing new residential colleges that will still be within a walkable campus.

My little house on Park Place appears to fall within that 10-minute radius. If I’m in the university’s backyard, they must be in mine.

Despite that common interest, I didn’t pay much attention to the university’s grand design until I saw a reference to the WaWa store while I was skimming the insert in the alumni magazine. The WaWa? That’s right, the WaWa, the 24-hour convenience store, where some of us can be found at 5 in the morning fueling up for newspaper delivery duty or preparing for the first train out of the Junction for Wall Street, or heading back to the Princeton Inn College after a night or studying or partying, as the case might be.

In the heart of this extensive planning effort, there are assurances that, whatever else happens, the WaWa will remain part of the neighborhood.

I give my neighbor, Princeton University, a lot of credit for accommodating the WaWa and for recognizing the humble little convenience store in its presentation. The master plan is a grand one, that could easily be grandiose: Listen to this description of the plan in the university’s house organ, the Weekly Bulletin: "A team of architects, landscape architects, and planners has labored to strike a perfect balance between the old and the new. They have balanced between centuries of tradition and plans for innovative new spaces where architects can continue to design buildings that are both of their time and timeless."

While the big thinkers of the university ponder the intersection of time and timeless, the rest of us need that morning cup of Joe. It’s comforting to know the WaWa will remain in the neighborhood.

Princeton planners are not the only ones to embrace the neighborhood institution in their plans. In West Windsor township officials have labored for years to come up with a plan for a revitalized downtown in the area of the Princeton Junction train station. Recently some progress seems to have been made by a private landowner in the area, Intercap Holdings, which owns the offices at 14 Washington Park next to the train station.

Intercap CEO Steve Goldin, who lives with his wife and kids in West Windsor, showed some consideration for the neighborhood when he unveiled a rendering of what the Acme shopping center area could look like with a little master planning. In the center of the retail area was an ice cream stand called "Lick-It," an obvious reference to the little stand with the picnic tables that stood for years at the corner of Route 571 and Wallace Road, next to the old Lucar Hardware.

The hardware store and the ice cream stand both gave way to a gleaming new bank. While new construction will be inevitable in the Princeton Junction area, with or without the special redevelopment aegis, a small town amenity reminiscent of the Lick-It would be one thing (one of the few things, perhaps) most West Windsor residents could agree on.

Just a few miles away from the Lick-it location, Princeton University holds out the WaWa as a sign of the human scale that it hopes to retain in its massive new master plan.

Make no mistake: It is massive. But for proponents of "smart growth," who usually are also opponents of "suburban sprawl," the university’s master plan should be – for the most part – good news. The plan comes after the university abandoned its long held idea of creating a mirror campus on the other side of Lake Carnegie. Instead it is planning for a far more intensive use of its space, with more than 2 million square feet of new construction planned between now and 2016 on the 380-acre main campus.

So in the midst of all that activity, the little things become more important. The university planners, like their counterparts in West Windsor, will score some points with the WaWa detail.

And like their counterparts in West Windsor, Princeton University will also generate some controversy. In Princeton’s case the controversial item is turning out to be the relocation of the Dinky station 400 feet further toward the main line than its present location. The pros and cons of that proposal are enough to make me want to revisit the issue in a future column.

In the meantime I will continue my position as a WHIMBY. That’s right, WHIMBY. Many plans of this scope create the infamous NIMBYs – "not in my backyard" opponents. This Princeton plan has not had much opposition of that sort, but it is certainly creating some WHIMBYs and I count myself as one of them: What’s happening in my backyard?

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