I live where I grew up, in Princeton, NJ. While the town has changed over time, as any place would over 46 years, it remains essentially the same. What has changed the most is the surrounding area.
Back in the day, as a kid, Princeton was surrounded by a belt of green 10-20 miles thick. Made up of farms and woods, it was a buffer that was as much psychic as it was physical. It kept the rest of the world at bay and it ensured a sense of small town life even though New York and Philadelphia were only 50 miles away.
Once, when probably 13 or 14, I went on a bike ride with a friend. We headed northeast along the canal and then at a certain point veered off. Up and out of the Millstone River basin, hours seemed to go by. Hot and thirsty, lost in every sense of the word, we were rewarded for our efforts when a Stewart’s Drive-in appeared off on its own, inhabiting a space carved out of a cornfield. Where was it? Where were we? We didn’t know and to a large extent it didn’t matter. It was summer, the days lasted forever, and it was hours until sunset. We had enough change for drinks, the owner pointed us back towards town, and after ten miles or so, biking through woods and farms, we were home.
Princeton is no longer isolated in that physical sense. The sod fields which lined Route 1 are gone, replaced by malls, shops, and hotels. There a long lines of traffic headed into town in the morning, out in the evening. Most of the rest of the land has been developed for housing or office parks. But traces of the buffer remain. To the east and the northeast of town, on the other side of the lake and the canal, there are still fields. Decent sized swaths of land, divided by long stretches of evergreens which rise three stories tall.
Click images for larger versions.
Update – 2/16/11: The Buffer Gets a Gallery