New Brunswick is a very diverse city with a very rich history. Centrally located between two major cities, New York City and Philadelphia, New Brunswick became an important hub city during the 18th century. Travelers, transporters, and traders would all pass through New Brunswick, utilizing the Raritan Canal. New Brunswick became a town in 1736 and was chartered as a city short thereafter in 1784. New Brunswick was so important during Colonial times tha the third reading of the Declaration of Independence in the colonies took place in here on July 6, 1776. The Continental army even took refuge in New Brunswick after a defeat in Fort Lee. Led by George Washington, the army crossed the Raritan River on their way to the Battle of Trenton. When looking at New Brunswick through an urban planning perspective it is very important to keep the city’s rich history in mind in order to understand why and how it is laid out as it is.
Walking through downtown New Brunswick I was able to see the rich history shine through in certain areas. The downtown portion of the city has done a tremendous job at keeping New Brunswick true to it’s historical roots, but modernizing it to stay current with the times. For instance, this plaque on Albany Street, outside Kilmer Square really highlights the historical importance the city served. Kilmer Square, named after New Brunswick’s very own Joyce Kilmer, is a very modern structure. The 18 million dollar structure developed by DevCo includes a number of high-end commercial tenets including Johnson and Johnson, D’Addarios & Co. Fine Jewelers, Tinder Box Internationale, and Panico’s Italian Restaurant. The plaza includes a patio area and wide sidewalk to allow for pedestrian traffic.
The area that most stands out in New Brunswick is Monument Square Park outside the Heldrich Hotel. Located between Livingston Avenue and George Street, the park serves as a wonderful green space for the community. Although the park is small in size, it still serves as a central location for the city. In the middle of the park is a monument of a soldier surrounded by benches. During Christmastime the park houses the town’s Christmas tree. On any given weekend you can see a number of town sponsored events for the New Brunswick community being held in this green space.
Although, downtown New Brunswick has really transformed over the years to become a pedestrian friendly environment with a number of commercial and residential attractions, the outer banks of the town has not been as lucky. In fact because downtown New Brunswick is much more attractive to developers and commercial businesses, the rest of community is isolated from these vital locations. In Clarence Perry’s Neighborhood Unit it is theorized that vital services and locations such as green spaces, municipal buildings, and commercial locations should be within a 5 minute walking distance for residents. However, by taking a quick look at a Google map it becomes evident that all the commercial and municipal locations are clustered in one area of the city while the rest of the community is isolated.
This view of New Brunswick past Rockoff Hall shows the tremendous amount of residential area in the rest of the city. However, there are no commercial locations for people to buy groceries or green spaces for children to play. This is very problematic for members of the community because it forces them to rely more heavily on automobiles. Furthermore, many of the buildings are not scaled proportionately. This is most evident at the train station. The train station is not only a historical location for the city, but it serves a very functional use. Many commuters use the train station to go to Philadelphia, Trenton, and New York City. With The Vue Apartment Building towering behind the train station, it detracts from the beauty and the cohesion of the city. In order to create a more pedestrian friendly city it is important that we scale the building appropriately and hide parking garages so that they do not distract the eye.
Another problem I saw with the design of New Brunswick was the layout of French Street. The road expands and turns into a highway with very fast moving traffic. With no side parking to act as a buffer between pedestrians and the traffic and no opposite direction traffic to create friction to slow down the cars, it becomes very unsafe for pedestrian traffic. This is problematic because this is where Kilmer Square and a number of other commercial businesses are located. In order to encourage people to walk around, eat on the patio, and stop into the shops it is important to slow down traffic on this street.
However, it is important to note that not all of New Brunswick suffers from the problems listed above. Walking down Church Street I was pleasantly surprised by it’s charm. I think Church Street should serve as a model for the rest of the city. The buildings are scaled, there is side-street parking, and it is pedestrian friendly.