Ilona Melker, Princeton
I am not a resident of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, yet I would like to share some of my observations about the conflict over proposal to consider the designation of the neighborhood as historical district and one, which is referred to as historically African American.
As we learned from the presentation on Nov. 30, the neighborhood was never exclusively African American. There were Irish and Italian immigrants also in the neighborhood at various times, as there are now a number of Hispanic residents currently (whose needs interestingly were not represented at all the “crowded” meeting last Monday).
Although there are significant buildings in that neighborhood which ought to be preserved and protected, such as the African-American churches, the Dorothea House for its significance to the Italian residents of Princeton, places related to Paul Robeson, an outstanding resident of the neighborhood, his birthplace, the African-American cemetery. However, much of the neighborhood can use a facelift. There are also some buildings, which would no longer serve the needs of residents and a teardown maybe the best solution. Let’s not preserve poverty and decay.
There are two arguments I would like to make against designating the neighborhood historical and favoring its African-American constituency.
1-Such favoring the African-American neighbors, although it may sound politically correct at our times, could create hostility between the different ethnic groups who make up the current neighborhood. It is not a move towards “coexist”and respect, but one towards resentment.
2-Hearing from residents who already live in historically designated neighborhoods the cost of repair and upkeep to maintain historically approved looks can become prohibitive and thus can lead to decline and deterioration, rather than preservation. It would discourage people moving into the neighborhood and providing the facelift.
I would like to recommend to the council members and the mayor of Princeton to designate historically valuable property protected in the neighborhood, look at each house not as a district, but an individual case when evaluating whether it should be preserved rather than replaced with something new.
Such a one-by-one evaluation could be sensitive to all residents of that neighborhood and may add to its revival rather than freeze it in time and space for emotionally motivated reasons of a few.
Ilona Melker, Princeton