By Jocelyn Molina
Most of Princeton University looks as if it’s still stuck in the 1740s. Gothic Architecture. Creeping Ivy. Ghost tours. One would think it’s in dire need of modernization. Geometric foundations. Minimalistic hues. Futuristic flourishes. The introduction of Princeton’s Arts and Transits project did just this, but the public was not on board with the transition completely.
The public’s response to Princeton University’s $330 million “Arts and Transit” project has been mixed since 2013. The project is aimed at expanding opportunities in the arts, improving the area’s aesthetics, and mitigating traffic. The project proposed moving a train terminal known as the “Dinky” and a Wawa adjacent to it.
Princeton University Vice President Robert Durkee also described the plan for a new arts building to the Princeton Summer Journal. “We created this plan that had the arts building near the existing set of art buildings,” Durkee said, and “lots of really attractive landscapes.”
Opponents have described the project as too modern. “My hesitance to embrace the new Wawa may be due to its transformation at the hands of the University’s Arts and Transit project,” student Margaret Spencer wrote in the Nassau Weekly. “It is no longer a community fixture, but a cog in the machinery of the University’s vision … It is free from any meaningful indication of its location within a community.”
Durkee disagrees. “If you go down and look at the train station and the Wawa, most people haven’t, in fact, heard any dissenting voices yet, though there probably are some,” he said. “They really like the way the train station looks.”
The new architecture of the Wawa hasn’t been the only factor. The relocation of the Dinky has been met with six lawsuits and a “Save the Dinky” movement. “We still think that the relocation of the Dinky was the biggest policy mistake that our community made since the relocation of the Dinky in 1918,” the group’s president Anita Garoniak said to the Daily Princetonian.
“Saving the Dinky is easy. The university has been saving the Dinky for a very long time,” Durkee said. He acknowledged concerns locals had. “There were a number of people in town who really didn’t like the fact that the train station was going to move 460 feet south. That’s where the controversy arose,” he said.
Durkee argued that the changes were beneficial. “This may have been a huge plus for students,” he said. “It’s not that far away from the old one. But it’s a great thing for commuters because now when you walk to the train station, you’re literally 20 feet away from the Wawa.”
As for the new arts building, Durkee said t“hat changes were a long time coming. “Ten years ago, we realized we had lots of students who wanted to study the arts,” he said. “We didn’t have enough programs, so we wanted to create more space.”
Some students disagreed with the project’s motivation. “More space dedicated to the appreciation and creation of the arts will be extremely beneficial. But to whom?” Olivia Robbins wrote in the Nassau Weekly. “To the same group of students that are already making the trek to New South. The geography of the Arts and Transit project works to further develop an isolated pocket of the arts on campus.”
She wasn’t the only one who felt this way. “So far as I can tell, the expansion contributes in only modest ways to the intellectual mission of the university,” Professor Stanley Katz told The New York Times.
Durkee was quick to dismiss the complaints. “Give it time,” he said. “It’s a new, attractive building, so give it a little time.”