Village Voices: The Younger Generation

The visioning process could not be considered thorough without having consulted with the younger generation in Ridgewood (i.e., residents under the age of 18), which represents more than 30% of the Village’s population. Within this demographic, high school students are especially active participants in Village life. They walk and drive through Ridgewood’s streets, enjoy public parks and the library, participate in community activities and events, attend school, take the train, and are frequent customers in downtown’s shops, cafes, and restaurants. What are their thoughts about Ridgewood today and into the future?

On March 5th, we met with six junior and senior student leaders of the Ridgewood High School (RHS) Project Interact Club, along with the group’s teacher-advisors. The initial questions prompted them to describe the Village and talk about the qualities or parts of it they appreciate, use, or find important. The conversation then evolved into a discussion of how Ridgewood could be improved, from which emerged several principles to consider. The summary of that part of the discussion is organized by these “emerging principles.”

Ridgewood Today

DSC00178The discussion started with students describing both physical qualities and social dimensions of the Village. They said Ridgewood is a generally walkable community with nice houses and a beautiful downtown with a traditional feel with some modern elements mixed in. With regards to the social dimensions of Village life, Ridgewood is a place for families and it also has many well-to-do residents.

If a friend were going to visit Ridgewood for the first time, students said they would take them to the Wild Duck Pond along E. Ridgewood Ave, to the bike trail, or to Crest Road to catch the view of Manhattan. They would also take them to downtown, which the students noted has a beautiful train station and a nice mix of local shops and restaurants, with several national chains too, such as Starbucks. They’ve noticed some newer types of businesses opening up more recently, such as a tea shop that serves bubble tea and a yoga studio. With the recent adoption of its “open school” policy, RHS students can now leave campus freely, and so many of them go to downtown to eat lunch, study at a coffee shop, and meet up with friends.

Emerging Principle:

  • Energize/Activate Parks & Open Spaces throughout the Village

Ridge School PlaygroundParks and open spaces were a recurring topic in the discussion. One student mentioned the Ridge Elementary School’s playground as being a good example of a feature that encourages children to play outside rather than sit at home indoors playing with cell phones and tablets. She mentioned that the other elementary schools should offer a similar amenity to their students and neighbors. In general, they feel there should be more active destinations for children, and not necessarily just parks and open spaces. They mentioned that the high school had once proposed a performing arts space, but the plan was shelved. Performances are currently held in several small venues.

The sentiments regarding parks and open space carried over to the downtown area. One student noted that Van Neste Square is not the type of place that people tend to linger, like for a picnic. They pointed out that Glen Rock’s Duck Pond is an example of a great park. It feels new, cleaner, and has working fountains. Also, the park has more grass/picnic space, the track around the pond is larger and better-maintained, and there is more parking.

Emerging Principles:

  • Improve Pedestrian Connectivity within the Village
  • Make Streets Safer to Promote/Support Walking and Biking
  • Improve the Connection between the East & West Sides of Downtown

dsc00377.jpgAs teenagers, the students all have access to a car and drive to school, though parking is expensive and not located conveniently close to the school. While some of them do ride bicycles, generally they do not observe much bicycling in Ridgewood streets, nor do they see many high school students ride their bikes to school. One student noted that in Japan and Taiwan, for example, the situation is the complete opposite; people bicycle everywhere. She added that more people living in Ridgewood might want to ride their bicycles, but they need to feel safe doing so. Right now, the streets do not feel very safe for biking. Some of the students often walk or go running through Ridgewood’s neighborhoods, but noted that there are gaps in the sidewalk network. In these areas they are forced to walk or run on the street, though it does not always feel safe to do so. Improved sidewalk connectivity would help in this regard.

One student made an observation about connectivity in downtown, or the lack thereof. She noted the physical divide between the east and west sides of downtown. With the exception of the Whole Foods on Godwin Avenue, the students do not know much about what goes on over on the west side of the tracks. While the tunnel under the railroad tracks provides a pedestrian connection between the two sides, it does not feel inviting to them by any means. There should be better ways to connect the two sides of downtown.

Emerging Principle:

  • A More Customer-Friendly Downtown

20190305_145813Students are customers too. While downtown is walkable from RHS, those instances when students drive to downtown, parking can be difficult and expensive, especially if they are ticketed. One student remarked that the new kiosk system is not easy to use. It requires entering a license plate number and waiting for the computer to process the information. Furthermore, it can be inconvenient to walk to the kiosk and go through the payment process if you just want to stop for a few minutes to pick up a bagel or a coffee.

Emerging Principles:

  • Change Will Come
  • Change Can Be Introduced in Ways that Maintain or Complement Village Character
  • In Some Cases Be Flexible with Ideals

DSC00158One of the sentiments the students expressed is that their parents and other adults generally seem to not want anything to change in Ridgewood and that change means that Ridgewood will lose its “traditional village character.” The students also value this character, but they believe that change can be introduced in ways that maintain or complement this character. Plus, Ridgewood can’t stay the same forever; change will come.

The students also believe that, in some cases, the Village should rethink or reshape its ideals of a small, traditional village in order to allow for other types of community needs and benefits. They brought up the example of Valley Hospital, which had been planning a major expansion of its facility in Ridgewood for many years but is now relocating and building a new facility in Paramus. The students said that some adults were reluctant to allow the hospital to expand in part because it would occupy too much space and make the Village too “industrial” or “urban.” The students believe that, in this case, the Village should have relaxed some of its ideals of maintaining a certain character or environment in order to permit a larger, better, modern hospital.

Ridgewood: A Place for Families

Melanie Hooban Halloween PhotoAt the beginning of the discussion, the students described Ridgewood as a “family town.” And we’ve heard, more than once, people say that as soon as kids graduate from high school the “For Sale” signs go up on front yards. So what will happen when these students graduate? None of the students intends to stay in Ridgewood after they graduate. They said they will come back to visit family and friends, but they will be moving on to other places in the state and across the country.

So maybe these students won’t be “the future of Ridgewood.” However, Ridgewood is known to have a high return rate. A lot of people who grew up in the Village leave for a while but eventually come back. Perhaps in a few decades, when these students consider starting their own families, they might decide to come back to Ridgewood and make the Village home again. If this is the case, they could well be the future of the Village.

Thanks to Nancy Reilly for helping to organize this discussion, and to the students of Project Interact who participated in the discussion! The photo at the top shows most of the students who participated in the discussion, along with the facilitators from NV5.

Do you have any comments on what you’ve just read or any additional “emerging principles” or ideas related to the topics raised in this Village Voices segment that you’d like to share? Write to us through the Contact page of this website or in the comment form below.

Author: Neil@NV5

City planner, graphic/web designer for NV5.

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