Trenton: the Perfect Model

John Hatch

Trenton is a city that is a perfect model for what is possible for all American cities; we are a microcosm of America.  Although we are relatively small, we are faced with the same history, hurdles and obstacles faced by almost every other city or town across the country:

  • Our population declined as our industries and businesses began leaving in the 1950’s.
  • Our commercial districts were decimated by the construction of suburban malls.
  • We are still dealing with the fall-out from racial injustice and the riots.
  • We are a city that, as a whole, is significantly poorer than our surrounding suburbs.
  • Urban Renewal demolished entire neighborhoods and created physical barriers of vacant land, parking lots and desolate landscapes that have separated our neighborhoods.
  • Even today, there are still government and cultural disincentives to revitalizing our city and town centers.
  • We suffer from consistent anti-urban and anti-Trenton bias in the media.

Even with all of these obstacles, Trenton is a model for what is possible, for what our cities could be.  Like most American towns and cities, we have a tremendous set of advantages and opportunities:

  • Trenton has a diverse, fascinating population; many of our residents love and are committed to the city.
  • We have new immigrants, setting down roots and building new lives.
  • We have an extraordinary history, reaching back to 1679.  We are the site of two battles from the American Revolution, and we were a key player in the Industrial Revolution.
  • We have a wonderful stock of historic buildings and neighborhoods.
  • We are the home of a broad range of important institutions, including the state capital, two colleges, churches, hospitals, etc.
  • We have a wonderful group of cultural attractions and organizations, including theaters, museums, historic sites and galleries.
  • We are strategically located on the Northeast Corridor with great transportation access, especially by train.

Given our history, our place in the state and in the country, our opportunities and our hurdles, Trenton is in a unique position to inspire and transform.  Here is one vision of Trenton:

  • We are a re-invented city that takes full advantage of our historic neighborhoods, buildings and houses by renovating, restoring and reusing them.
  • We are a walkable city with redeveloped, diverse neighborhoods filled with people of different ethnic, cultural and economic backgrounds living and working together.
  • We are a city that has become a model for race and cultural relations, people of all backgrounds working together to make a great city.
  • Trenton is a “green” and sustainable city where people walk and bike to work, take advantage of mass transit, use solar power, etc.
  • We have model schools that provide a broad range of excellent educational options.
  • Trenton is an economically vibrant city with new stores, industries, businesses, cultural organizations, arts groups and residents actively creating the life of the community.

All too often, Americans have a distorted, inaccurate image of most of our cities, and Trenton is no exception.  Instead of the old way of thinking, this is what the people of the world will see when they think of Trenton:

  • Beautiful, tree-lined streets with renovated, historic homes and buildings complemented by new, exciting infill development, all at a human scale.
  • People of all races and backgrounds walking to work and to stores, participating in a wide range of local activities, all enjoying life in a real community.
  • New industries, artists and craftspeople creating innovative new products in historic factory buildings and exciting new structures.
  • Museums, galleries, theaters and historic sites attracting visitors and creating a culture of the arts.
  • Renovated, successful schools that train our children to lead useful, productive, satisfying lives.
  • A sustainable, vibrant, safe community.

Essentially, the vision is for a Beautiful Trenton.

When I first arrived in Trenton more than twenty years ago, I kept noticing the same two refrains:  “Trenton has SO much potential” and “Why doesn’t somebody DO something?”

The first statement underscores that many people still think that Trenton should be different and better than it is.  Well, Trenton does have a lot of potential, but I hope that more and more people realize that Trenton already IS a wonderful, fascinating place. With all of the real work that needs to be done, with all of the hurdles we’ve had to face, with all of our unrealized potential, we have already accomplished much and this already is a great place to live and work.

The second statement seemed to underscore our desire for the big solution, the big hand-out, the major corporation or big politician who would arrive and make everything better.  Thankfully, I’ve heard this sentiment less and less over the years.

There is no magic bullet.  No one is going to save Trenton.  Each of us needs to work to make Trenton a better place, working together and not waiting for someone to do it for us.  Trenton is beautiful because of what each of us contributes.  We need to work on our homes, our streets, our neighborhoods:  Cleaning, renovating, working in our schools, going to plays, participating in government.  We need to make policy changes at the local, state and national levels so that there really is a level playing field.  Trenton is beautiful, and there is lots of work to do.  Beautiful Trenton is and will be the sum of all of our efforts.


1 comment so far

  1. Jarrett Kerbel on

    Great article, well written and inspiring!

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