Townscape Transformations, History, and the Grieving Process

Posted on Posted in Flemington

Flemington Borough is slated for transformation. Significant, community-wide change is on the horizon, and reactions to its announcement, though mixed, share one important characteristic: passion.

Emotions run high when something of value is on the line. That something-of-value is shared by all the community members, both inside and outside Borough boundaries. It’s a shared love of a town, its history, and its people. Everyone wants what’s best for the town, but not everyone agrees on how to accomplish that or even what that would look like when it’s done.

When Mr. Cust laid out his plan for radically changing the face of Main Street Flemington, the response was instant, and it was passionate. Those on board with Cust’s vision cheered its promise and those in opposition mourned the associated losses.

Who is right?


If Mr. Cust’s plan and vision succeeds, there will be both loss and gain. No amount of compromise will change that fact. Buildings will come down. Others will be built in their place.

For many townspeople, those buildings carry more meaning than the bricks and mortar used to construct them. They mean history – a shared history. And the idea of removing them, for these people, smacks of disrespect. It’s hurtful to them, and they feel that hurt deeply and intensely. They feel powerless to prevent what feels to them like a smack in the face.

Just as significant changes in life are often accompanied by significant losses (e.g., a spouse’s death, a career change, a child leaving home), so it is with municipalities. With loss comes pain – even when that loss is necessary to make way for positive change.

Belittling those losses or those who mourn them only serves to deepen their pain. Good neighbors don’t do that. When our friends and family are experiencing loss (or anticipated loss), we don’t goad and tease them, nor do we insist that they are overreacting. We love them. We support them. We listen. We take time to empathize and to acknowledge that their pain is real and that it truly hurts.

So as we march on to a new version of Flemington, let’s take special care to help soften the blow for those who are in mourning about it. Denial, anger, bargaining, despair, and acceptance are all normal phases of the grieving process. Some of our friends and neighbors will be at different stages in that process at different times. Let’s give them the room and the support and the respect they deserve while they are grappling with this.

Because when all is said and done, we’re all still neighbors. We were before Mr. Cust shared his plan, and we will be after. That much is true regardless of what structures do or do not stand on Main Street and regardless of what structures are or are not built in their place.

That’s my take on it. What’s yours?


Borough Council Meeting 2/22/16 (first of three) — Jack Cust’s Presentation from Michele Blood on Vimeo.