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Saturday, April 28, 2007

After several weeks of rain and Nor'easters and flooding, the weather has finally improved significantly this week. To celebrate the weather I took a stroll to downtown Trenton this morning and there were a surprising amount of people out and about. Skateboarders were making skating videos on Front Street, there were plenty of people in Mill Hill Park, and Cafe Ole had about ten people sitting inside sipping coffee talking to Anthony, the guy running the joint for the morning. I guzzled down two double espressos, which cost a total of one dollar!


Anthony seemed like a nice guy; he invited pretty every single patron back to T-Town next weekend for the Trenton Film Festival. Although I picked up a shift at the restaurant for a little extra cash, I plan on attending some of Saturday's early-afternoon showings, and maybe the afterparty at Joe's Mill Hill Saloon after I'm done with work. Sounds like a good opportunity to meet some more of the lively citizens of Trenton.

Now for the serious stuff.

This week's recent revelations of malfeasances on the part of several school district employees only further highlights the necessity of a better school district to the proper functioning of any urban area like Trenton. People with children simply won't move here until the district performs better and provides a safer environment for its students.


If families don't move to Trenton it will remain extremely difficult to change the absurd demographic makeup of the city, with a lopsided amount of Mercer County's poor living within a 7.7 square mile city. Concentrated poverty only hurts the city, discouraging investment and the availability of well-paying jobs.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

So I bit the bullet.

I'm officially moving into one of Trenton's nicer neighborhoods, the Mill Hill. Located just south of downtown, it's a few blocks of beautiful, historic brick and wood row houses, with cobblestone streets and old fashioned street lights.

The neighbors I have seen all look like good people, a far cry from most people's perceptions of who lives in Trenton. There is still something to be said for this city, which can only go up from here.

The neighborhood is within walking distance of many downtown establishments, like Joe's Mill Hill Saloon.

There's also other venues nearby, including restaurants, a coffee house or two, shops and some entertainment venues. And, as far as Trenton goes, there isn't a great public safety issue.

I'm hoping to become a part of this community of daring souls who shun the bland, rich suburbs of New Jersey for a chance to be part of the rebirth of a formerly vibrant city. Trenton has all the infrastructure and housing stock to become great again.

It's just a question of when the leaders come around to create the policy and enough like-minded people are around to put that policy into action.

(Mill Hill boundaries)

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Cadwalader Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, really hearkens back to the golden years of Trenton, before the current poverty- and crime-stricken era plagued the city. The designer of Central Park and Prospect Park gave Trenton's 100-acre park rolling hills and curved boulevards. The neighborhoods of Hillcrest, Cadwalader Heights and Hiltonia surround the park, giving residents a real piece of land to play on.

After running around the park and Hiltonia Saturday afternoon, it really seemed like a peaceful place, much removed from the violence that is plaguing the rest of the city as we speak. Just up Stuyvesant Ave., in the neighborhoods north of Route 29, death is reigning over Trenton. Nine people have been murdered in the first three months of 2007, on pace for the deadliest year in Trenton's storied history. The city is on pace for 36 for the year, or a rate of 40 per 100,000.

To put things in perspective, this would be like New York City suffering from 3,200 murders in a single year, something unheard of these days. Yet if a city the size of New York can get its crime problems under control, then surely a city 1/80th the size should be able to, with much less effort and fanfare.

Yet Trenton cannot.

Year after year, the population decreases, as the more affluent and well-off people get out while they can. A city that once had nearly 130,000 residents now has 85,000, and that number is dwindling.

People are fleeing the city's limits, despite wonderful housing stock and historical and cultural advantages.

While people complain of South Trenton and the Italian neighborhood, Chambersburg, changing to a more Latino character, this is simply racial fright typical of a white group losing their majority status.

The real problems lie in the North and West Wards, where poor black men are being murdered one at a time, by other poor black men.

The abject poverty, and concentration of people living in poverty in these two city wards is literally eating its residents alive, and discouraging development and affluence from creeping into the neighborhood.

Six of the seven homicides in March occurred in a two-square mile area in those two wards. Only one other unsolved murder occurred in a basement in Chambersburg.

In the middle of all of this, Trenton sits in Mercer County, bordering with some of the most affluent communities in the state. West Windsor, Princeton, Hopewell etc. sit quietly idle, sending children to high-ranking school districts while their Mercer neighbors in Trenton send children to an Abbott district where only a third of incoming freshman will end up with a high school diploma.

Mayor Doug Palmer and Police Director Santiago have their hands full trying to solve the current spate of murders, which came only a couple months after they jointly announced Trenton's dwindling crime problems. Driving around town cannot hide what's really going on. People are poor, and their neighbors are poor. They see a world of poverty, and that realization drives them into crime and the hands of gangs, who promise an escape from their environment which America cannot.

Bring these people out of poverty, somehow, and the gangs will fall apart. Now all Trenton needs to do is solve poverty. I'm sure other cities would listen if they somehow came up with the magic cure.