Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Walk a mile in my town

Running out to pick up a tomato pie for dinner, we managed to catch the tail end of a story on NJN News (about 24 minutes in) this evening announcing that Trenton was named the country’s 8th most walkable city by Prevention Magazine.

In conjunction with the American Podiatric Medical Association, Prevention assembled a group of experts who evaluated the best cities for hoofing it around.

In the write up, Trenton was cited for the high percentage of people who walk to work and or walk for exercise. Trenton’s infrastructure was deemed “highly walkable” because it provided wide sidewalks without having to cross a lot of wide and busy streets.
Another positive was the cluster of walkable commercial and cultural attractions downtown.

Now it’s tempting to denigrate the study by pointing out the comparable absence of such attractions compared with the Trenton of 40 or 50 years ago. We’ll forego the cheap and easy shot to point out the positive…Trenton is an exceptionally walkable city.

The fact that Trenton still exhibits the character of its 19th century boom years is a real plus. The city’s size is quite manageable, even for pedestrians. It’s only about a mile from the county courthouse at Broad and Market Streets to Waterfront Park. It’s a similar stroll from the State House up through Stacy Park to the Island neighborhood.

The cluster of government and commercial buildings downtown is easily accessible.

And the architecture is by and large intact due to the lack of wholesale redevelopment schemes (not that there hasn’t been some proposed).

In short, Trenton is a city on a very human scale and it would behoove professional planners and developers to keep that in mind as they plot the future of the capital city.

As thinking people seek more ways to lives independent of their automobiles, cities like Trenton will become more and more attractive. We’d be well advised to keep to the plans for downtown as laid out in the Capital City Redevelopment Corporation’s Master Plan of twenty years ago. The state and the city should come to terms with the need to open up Rte. 29 so we can regain pedestrian access to the riverfront. And we need to stop courting the out-of-scale type of developments represented by the Full Spectrum project.

To be sure, we need more people living, working, shopping and playing downtown. But we can’t afford to lose the comfortable scale of the buildings and streets in the process.


Capital 3 said...

In many ways I thought other cities could be more 'walkable' but after reading Prevention's lineup, I have to agree that Trenton is much more walkable than, say, Boston. Annapolis & Providence are quite walkable, but I admit don't boast broad sidewalks like Trenton.

Having moved from Manhattan two years ago, I specifically chose Trenton as I could buy a house within biking distance to the train station. I find great pride and financial savings in leaving the car in the garage. Even in the rain and snow I can get to work. This is almost a neccessity, as it seems Trenton doesn't like to plow the South Ward.

It saddens me to be an absent resident of Trenton- if there were more groceries, nightlife, commerce I would delight in living in the capital more. However, my gym is in Pennsylvania, my nightlife in Neptune, and work in New York. I'm annoyed to find Trenton only a shabby historic bedroom for my tri-state lifestyle.

Have you seen the current State Museum exhibit at the State Archives? The 5 point plan for waterfront development was up when I visited last November. I am NOT a fan. By keeping 29 a high-speed freeway, the waterfront will only ever be a daytime picnic area for state employees. Stop the traffic, get the drivers out of the cars, and create commercial frontage. Let the waterfront be a pedestrian park, but let the waterview be prime real estate. Also, the oversized 'torches' are awful. Firstly it's a bad knock-off of Providence's 'Waterfire' and dangerous enough to deter families with young children from walking the riverfront.

Old Mill Hill said...

Capital 3,

First of all, a belated welcome to Trenton.

Your points are all extremely valid.

The designation as one of the country's top 10 walking cities is yet another example of the potential that lays buried in the bones of this old city.

We've suffered from myopic visionaries with little or no common sense.

My only suggestion is for more participation in Trenton's civic life from you and like-minded folks.

The changes we need to make are in our hands.