The catch phrase on the large window advertisement on the Mercer County-owned building on Route 129 and Hamilton Avenue says it all: “Be Inspired.”
And while the colorful advertisement with the smiling couple is designed to inspire people to rent a space at Roebling Lofts, its placement next to a row of broken windows inspired me to think about how the various governments located in Trenton could actually get the same spirit to think more about improving how they are inadvertently shaping public perception of the city in a manner that is often less than inspirational.
Exhibit one: That same Mercer County property on Hamilton Avenue, between Clark Street and Route 129. Yes, it’s part of a long decaying complex that has become so familiar that it seems expected. However in addition to being on a major thoroughfare, the building is part of an area that has become a magnet for visitors looking for an entry into the city: to live, visit the county-owned CURE Arena, and participate in the popular Art All Night, Punk Rock Flea Market, and special events such as last year’s “Anthracite Fields” event. Its row of broken windows makes one think less of upbeat Trenton and more about how a city fails when simple things such as broken windows are not addressed.
A call to the Mercer County Improvement Authority to find out if there were any plans to do some window dressing resulted in some calls from the property developers HHG, the Roebling Loft developers. They’re also developing the same lot that caught my attention.
Both representatives articulated their interest in my point and shared their position in regards to the property, recent activities, relationship with the county, and finances.
I in turn acknowledged their contributions but restated my point: The building is an eyesore and everyone would be better off if there were some cosmetic improvements. It’s a point that is difficult to argue with.
What I didn’t articulate is exhibit two: The City of Trenton-owned property where Art All Night and the Punk Rock Flea Markets are held and attract thousands also suffers from the broken windows and plumbing issues. I only brought up a regular city subject: the need to pave the streets.
Then there’s exhibit three: the New Jersey State House welcoming citizens to the capital city with a facade featuring a patchwork of raw plywood windows and black protective wall making the place look like a haunted-mansion attraction.
Yes, former Governor Chris Christie’s the guy who shuttered the building, but it’s now Phil Murphy’s eyesore.
So what’s the point about bringing up this Trenton Trifecta?
Back to the banner: I was inspired and started thinking that it may not be too difficult to think that something could be done to help improve Trenton’s visual landscape without breaking the budget. After all, each taxpayer-supported public entity has workers on staff who may be able to provide some simple solutions.
For example, the county could address the distressed windows of its Hamilton and Route 129 building by getting rid of all the glass completely. The state could have the plywood painted and unified. And the city may be able to use temporary, translucent materials to cover broken glass in a manner that mitigates the distress and demonstrates care — rather than abandonment — until the problem can be remedied.
Then I got even more inspired and thought perhaps a contracted artist or two could be a simple and not-too-expensive solution. After all, I had worked with the New Jersey State Council on the Arts Public Art Program for several years and saw how artists could transform spaces.
Some quick communication with area artists confirmed my hunch that an investment of $50,000 or so could make a big difference to both the appearance of the city and an artist looking to make a living. And the state, county, and city each have procedures to either issue an RFP or have a competition.
And, yes, $50,000 could be used for a variety of other things, but the truth is $50,000 of existing funds could also be rerouted, and haven’t the city, county, and state instituted some raises over the past several years?
And yes, I am aware of the things that state, county, city, and the developers have been doing in Trenton, that there are other priorities, and so on. I appreciate all of that and that’s what they’re there to do.
But I’m just doing what I was asked to do by a sign in the window: to be inspired. And I’m just sharing the thought.