The problem with Princeton


Since relocating to Princeton, in 2018, I have noticed a strange, but predictable trend when discussing the betterment of our town with the people I meet. Elected officials, area leadership, concerned citizens, they all rely on a specific phrase to deflect a substantive conversation about real growth and development. “The problem with Princeton …”, they say. It always precedes or follows great ideas for real change, but ultimately it is a justification not to act. If we are helpless to the changes being witnessed, we are not responsible to fix them. We know what should be done, can articulate the issues at hand, describe past failures in immense detail, and ultimately we can sleep at night knowing that we are powerless to help and therefore don’t have to.

In light of this, I would like to encourage everyone to meditate on what our responsibility to the Capitol Theater is in the current moment of change. Rural towns everywhere are struggling and desperately looking for ways to rebuild a sustainable system for community and economic development. The towns that are figuring out this new environment of globalization, automation, and now infectious pandemic are those that lean into the specific instead of the generic. Thriving communities are creating culture around heritage sites that give a place personality and livelihood. Places like the Capitol Theater.

Most struggling towns dream of having an existing asset like our theater to serve as a foundation for the myriad of development and programming issues we face. When you start to add together the theater, plus Newsome’s just down the street, and a growing farmers market in walking distance, you have a hub to build everything else around. Tourism, business attraction, business retention, community revitalization, youth retention, public programming, community identity, the arts, walking trails, public parks. Everything that Princeton is struggling with, the solutions starts with investment in existing assets to establish a base for community programming and development.

I want to be clear that I am not talking about “It’s A Wonderful Life”-style charity, where we throw money at a problem asking no questions, demanding no change. Our aim should not be preserving a nostalgic centerpiece to ward off the uncomfortable reminder that everything is changing all the time. We have to start from scratch and think about what everything needs to be going forward and what best serves our community and its ambitions for the future.

I am certain of one thing as I write this. Our town needs cultural institutions to build around that are structured and programmed to serve our city planning and overall community development.

I would love to be a part of the conversation and dedicate my own time to finding solutions with you all. Let’s get something going and find a way to keep an important part of our community once it has run its current course. There isn’t a problem with Princeton, but if we are not careful there will be soon.

Joe Duncan