Bravo for Richard K. Rein’s essay on Trenton and the paths it could take to a future worthy of its past. This city (where I was born and raised) is known throughout the world for its place in the American experiment and yet today, centered in one of the richest areas on earth (Mercer County) it is disintegrating before our very eyes. Shame on everyone for letting this happen to the despair of its youngest, most vulnerable inhabitants.
Sadly, one institution that could have a great effect on this city has done very little to help it over the years: Princeton University has for centuries depended on the Trenton population for cleaning its toilets, scrubbing its facades, cutting its grass, serving its food, etc. And what really has it done in return — this place that solemnly declares it exists “in the nation’s service”? Hit and miss or virtually nothing: it has turned its face for centuries from the mini-nation at its very doorstep.
And now, when the youth of Trenton — those very sons and daughters of so many Princeton employees — are besieged by inner city problems they cannot escape, there is virtual silence from a few miles up the road.
Here’s a thought. In the middle of Trenton’s worst areas, there sits an unused and crumbling campus — the former Mercer Hospital. What a grand gesture it would be for Princeton to turn this campus into a high school of science and technology open to the beleaguered youth of Trenton. The Architecture School could retrofit the campus, the university administration could create a staff supplemented by Princeton faculty, staff, and students to bring structure to the school and curriculum, I dare to say even Rider and the College of New Jersey would be most helpful. Imagine, imagine. And how much of Princeton’s glittering endowment would this take?
What a gesture it could be — “in the nation’s service.”
— Frederick Olessi
Editor’s note: Princeton University was one of the major initial donors to the Greater Trenton organization. And various Princeton courses over the years have addressed Trenton issues. But more could be done, and has been done. In the late 1960s, for example, Princeton architecture students manned a ‘People’s Workshop” in New Brunswick to facilitate building projects in the inner city.