The Little Girl and the Ever-Changing City

I wrote this for my Growth & Structure of Cities class called “Form of the City”. It resonated with a lot of my family members and I figured some of my readers here would appreciate it too.

In a small city, smack dab in the middle of the Garden State, lies a community of many kinds of people. In 1783 Princeton NJ was the provisional capital of the United States. Now lies a small city with a world-renowned university, a group of local “Princetonians”, and the constant stream of tourists who visit every weekend. A little girl has recently been granted permission to go “downtown” by herself, from her parents. This little girl has lived in Princeton her whole life, she’s one of the locals who lives in the shadows of the distinguished campus. When she was little her grandma would take her downtown to their favorite local coffee shop, Small World Coffee, wedged between an alleyway and an ever changing store lot. Most of the college students go to the Starbucks around the corner facing campus, so this spot is truly one for the locals. On special occasions they get ice cream at Halo Pub. Out of the three ice cream joints in town: Thomas Sweet is designated for tourists due to Albert Einstein’s love for the sugary scoops, Bent Spoon is too overpriced although very delicious, hence Halo Pub, one scoop for two dollars forty five is also another local secret. The little girl knows which crosswalk has the light that allows pedestrians to cross the fastest, but she also knows which side-streets are narrow enough to just j-walk unnoticed. She loves going to campus to look at the architecture, walking under the impression of stone fortresses. When she was younger she would pick a new tree to climb every time she went on walks with her grandma. For the tourists, her bff’s mom runs “ghost tours” where she convinces out-of-towners that there are spirits floating around in the dark. The little girl helps her sometimes, she knows the campus like the back of her hand so leading on eager spectators only seems natural. 

I have many names. Sometimes it’s children who give them to me, sometimes it’s the occasional tipsy adult who falls onto my back a little too hard. I am one of many on campus. Although there are many that look like me I like to think I am special. Nestled near the secret garden it usually only allows the dedicated campus-explorers the ability to find me. I am not as popular as those in front of Nassau Hall. Every year when the alumni come to reunions they get all the action. In the daytime pictures are snapped of the genius kids with their even-smarter parents. At night those same parents come back to relive the “best four years of their lives”. I am deeper into campus so I’m farther away from the hustle and bustle of the traffic on Nassau Street. I don’t get to see any cars, I don’t get to see the buses or the local dinky. I see people walking and biking and eating Jules pizza. When it rains all the finger-prints wash off of me, the water settles in the little indentations of my body. My face and back are fading into a different color from all the oily hands that grab at me, but I don’t mind. 

The little girl gets her hot chocolate from the nice barista at Small World and waits to cross from Witherspoon to Nassau. When the stream of cars roll to a stop, she crosses and enters the gaits of campus. In her mind she puts on her invisibility cloak like from her favorite book and floats around to explore. The little girl likes to escape the hustle and bustle from town to be on campus. In town there are so many new stores arising, new brick apartments that cost so much- her mother won’t even tell her the number. When she was smaller there used to be a lot of old lady’s with nice dogs, but now she sees more fancy people with suits talking quickly on their phones. Every year her elementary school classes get bigger and bigger. Her favorite neighborhood besides being on campus is the historic Guatemalan and Black community that lies on the edge of town. Her mom tells her that developers keep offering the nice people loads of money to knock down their houses. The little girl feels sad when she thinks about that, she imagines a world where the nice men don’t sit on the front steps talking about telenovelas, the mom’s inside making yummy tamales and her friends playing soccer with her at the local field. Already her mom points out the old, abandoned historic elementary school once for “colored children” that has been turned into apartment buildings where a bunch of young adults who wear man-buns and yoga pants like to rent from. She thinks how sad that one of her favorite places in Princeton might be destroyed, but at least for right now she is under the cloak of stone buildings and willow trees on campus that feel safe and protected. 

While a lot of people visit me I do remember some particular faces. It isn’t usually the college students that come to sit on my back like you would guess, it is usually the kids of the professors or those that call themselves “Princetonians”. When I was younger less people with big cameras and maps would come to visit me, but as time has gone on they seem more common. I hear men in suits walking past me quickly talking about their next construction or development project downtown. It has even gotten to the point where over the hundred year old trees I can start to see roofs peaking out, construction men far away building higher and higher. Although I try to remain optimistic and greet all the new people happily, I do miss the times when it was the same group of people who would visit me. Lately the weather has been really bad. It seems like in the past couple of years I am either completely baking under the sun, being flooded by a ton of rain, or being iced over by the cold. Sure, this has happened since the beginning, but it seems like recently it has been more extreme. Not to mention lately, people have been walking around with face coverings and hand sanitizer bottles that are sticky. Today though I see one of my favorite local little regulars coming up to me. She carries a hot chocolate from Small World in her hand and is walking from shady tree to shady tree.

The little girl makes her way through campus. Although not aimlessly, she does like to let the day’s mood affect her whereabouts. Ultimately though, she knows the goal of her journey. She arrives at her favorite part of campus. The little girl likes it here because it reminds her of the memories she’s made as she’s grown up. She thinks about how her grandma used to climb on top with her, how they’d both make roaring noises. Every year they’d measure her against it to see if she had grown taller. In the winter it is cold and can be almost sharp to the touch, but on a cool spring day it feels refreshing. Now that she is allowed to go downtown by herself she still loves to come here. She doesn’t feel scared of the new people in suits or the big brick buildings. She knows that it has been here for longer than them, and she hopes that it will outlive them too. She thinks about the community she loves so much that is being bulldozed over and wishes it was as sturdy as her favorite spot on campus. She feels sad, not knowing what in the world she could ever do. So instead of crying, she climbs up and sits down. 

Princeton is a growing city full of new stores, apartment buildings, and tourists. And if you’re lucky enough to visit it one day, you might just see a little girl sitting on a sculpture of a tiger, wishing their home would never change.

Published by ellakotsen

student at Bryn Mawr College

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