A blog about Hudson, New York

Monthly Archives: February 2011

Chipping Away

I remember the first time I saw Hudson. It was the winter of 1985 and my parents had picked me up at the Amtrak station to take me to their recently purchased house in Chatham. My mom asked my father to drive down Warren Street so that I could see the town. As we turned up Warren from Front, she explained that the state had been providing funds to the city for basic street and facade improvements but that, for the most part, it was a ghost town.

And so it seemed. But as we continued up the street, I exclaimed “Oh my God, it keeps going on and on,” amazed to see such a contiguous a collection of intact historic buildings so off the beaten path. When we reached the derelict but augustly handsome Opera House, I said “stop the car!” (which I think my dad did, at least long enough for me to write down the info on the for-sale sign attached to it).  By the time we reached the streamlined moderne diner, so tightly jimmied into the 19th-century streetscape, I was smitten and made a mental note that Hudson might be a place I’d like to live in some day.

I’ve had urban epiphanies such as these before and since, moments when grand architectural intentions of the past suddenly popped up into a  tableau- vivant present: once in London, on top of a double decker bus as it turned into the crescent of Regent Street, a moment in which I could swear I heard trumpets playing Handel; in an18th century  underpass leading to the Place des Vosges in Paris, where I came upon a gaggle of French schoolchildren yelling out “les igloos!”  after being asked “Ou habitez les Eskimos?” by their (impeccably clad) teacher; while hanging with a friend at the Central Park Lake one summer evening in1974, marveling at the glowing limestone linearity of the Fifth Avenue skyline, the drumbeat of tropical lands and the smell of pot filling the air around us; the list goes on and includes such moments in cities such as Los Angeles, Provincetown, Boston, and South Beach.

Hudson was the smallest (and least “vivant”) of those but made no less memorable an impression. And continues to do so, as it is reclaimed, lot by lot,  by the kind of private investment this town’s noble infrastructure deserves. Way too often, however, we’re confronted by a municipal and county level mentality that is constantly finding new ways to chip away at the town’s birthright—the extraordinary appeal of its physical landscape, both natural and man- made — as well as the morale of the people who moved here because of it.  (This can be done in so many ways: long term inertia and lack of imaginative initiative can be just as damaging as poor or wrongheaded planning and design.)

The latest battle–against the proposed demolition of the early 19th century Peter Miller  house at 900 Columbia Street–is the kind of thing people fought against in the 60s, 70s and 80s but just shouldn’t be happening now, at least not here. It’s particularly disheartening because the group that owns the building, the Mental Health Association of Greene and Columbia Counties, is a worthy organization that should be counted as one of the good guys. At the same time, the structure in question is neither on the historic register nor in a landmark district–  at least not yet— but it is a handsome devil, and its absence would leave a gaping hole in an already compromised area that needs all the good old buildings it has.  Still, it is happening…so let’s all do what we can to stop it (sign the petition here) and move on to the next, hopefully more positive thing right away. –Scott Baldinger

Smart Indeed

Greene and Columbia Counties’ very own radio station, WGXC,  launches this Saturday at 90.7 FM, just a short dial away from WAMC (conveniently located for those in need of a quick break from Alan Chartok every once in a while.) Some of the most promising programing will no doubt be coming from WGXC Newsroom’s Paul Smart, who for months now has been filling up the station’s web site with a dead-tree daily’s worth of relevant stories for the community, either originally reported or gleaned from both known and obscure sources.

An example of the kind of  enlightening and detailed news items that Smart often brings to our attention is the aptly titled (if rather Getrude Stein-ish sounding and punctuated)  “Smart Growth is the law, now”  posting, which got me so excited (in a good way) that I had to stop reading midway,  for fear of not going to sleep that night.

The shift in tone from suburbia to exurbia, and homeowners’ returned wish to be able to walk to stores, libraries and other municipal services, is the subject of an increasingly powerful state agency, Empire State Future, in charge of a new state law, the New York Public Infrastructure Policy Act. Kathy Kahn of HV Biz has a story on how ESF Executive Director Peter Fleischer is now saying that the state’s going to force more municipalities to think twice when it comes to planning infrastructure projects within their borders. Kahn reports how Fleischer recently outlined what the new law will do to help increase municipalities’ desire to think ‘smart’  in order to qualify for funding, directing 10 state agencies, authorities and public corporations – from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Environmental Conservation – to screen infrastructure programs to stop sprawl and to rate, on the basis of benefit, whether a project is considered a smart investment or one that will contribute to the problem.  ‘While Fleischer said some areas of the mid-Hudson region would remain rural by nature, towns and villages that are growing in population must find ways to make those expanding communities more pedestrian and public transportation friendly,’ Kahn writes.  ‘The Public Infrastructure Policy Act will require municipal planners to justify to the state agencies encompassed by the legislation to deem them worthy of funding based on their planning.’ The law was signed in September, 2010. ”

The most exciting thing about this item can be found by searching further at the New York Public Infrastructure Policy Act’s web site, which states that millions of dollars of  quality- of- life  infrastructure grants could be used for the kind of projects I mentioned in the last few posts:  the renovation of the Opera House auditorium, the Seventh Street Park  and various historic properties, perhaps even  the acquisition of waterfront property from heavy industry.  “ The New York Main Street program provides financial resources and technical assistance to communities to strengthen the economic vitality of the State’s traditional Main Streets and neighborhoods….Main Street grants are revitalizing our downtowns through targeted commercial/residential improvements such as facade renovations, interior residential building upgrades and streetscape enhancements. Cultural anchors, such as theatres or museums, have also been renovated with Main Street funds.”

Given the state’s present fiscal situation, money might not be available for any construction, at least for now–but shouldn’t we be trying: i.e. choosing projects, creating architectural renderings, raising private donations, and lobbying to see them expedited?  We need exciting plans, or at least a plan to get a plan. Perhaps this is something that a local radio station such as WGXC could help marshal support for. — Scott Baldinger

Nightbloom

On an excursion to New York this week, my eyes feasted on brilliant visions such as Picasso’s Cubist guitar series and the Abstract Expressionist show at the Museum of Modern Art, Ellsworth Kelly’s latest work at Matthew Marks, and the huge M&M LED display in Times Square. And, then on my return home to Hudson, there was the welcome sight of the recently repaired neon sign of Nivers Music Store (801 Columbia Street)–yet another visual treasure of the town that should be considered for landmark designation  (pictured here partly through a neighboring storefront window). — Scott Baldinger

Signs of Spring?

Groundhogs are supposedly heralding an early spring but, until now, evidence seemed scanty around these parts, buried as it has been under feet of ice and snow. Hopeful signs are popping up in shopfront windows, however, such as this (albeit inorganic) display of  solar- powered dancing daisies ($ 5 each) at David Dew Bruner (610 Warren Street 914- 466-4837)   –S.B.

News on the Rialto

If We Had Ten Million

In her Gossips of Rivertown blog, Carole Osterink asks the tantalizing question: “What Could Hudson Could Do With 10 Million?”  This is the amount of economic development money that Governor Cuomo recently proposed to offer effected communities in exchange for the shutting down of underutilized prisons throughout the state. As Carole mentions, our very own Hudson Correctional Facility (pictured above when it was the New York Training School for Girls) was targeted for closure in 2008 but dodged  the bullet  through the lobbying efforts of local officials;  it could very well end up on the list again this time. (A quick shot at the kind of stuff it shouldn’t be used for: access roads for gravel-carrying trucks; punitive stings against local bars and restaurants, or hulking new construction like a parking garage in the middle of the town.)

Carole’s query led me back to something that I mentioned in last week’s post: the creation of a redevelopment agency that emphasized historic preservation,  enlightened city planning,  and the cultural,  recreational,  and environmental resources of the town. An agency like this could use the ten million dollars to form partnerships with nonprofits and businesses and get maximum bang for the buck for projects such as the renovation of the 7th Street Park and the auditorium of the Opera House; it could also purchase blighted properties seized through eminent domain (which the city has been unable to pay for in the past); new corporate, residential  or educational uses for the historic prison complex itself, with  a complete restoration of the Plum Bronson house; and, last but not least, an expanded Hudson River park.

CORRECTION:  In a previous version of this post, I incorrectly stated that the town didn’t have “any kind of municipal level economic development office” and that the handing over of state money could be made more difficult because of this. A note from Victor Mendolia, chairman of Hudson Democratic Committee, pointed out that the “the city does indeed have an Economic Development Agency, in fact it has two:  The Hudson Development Corporation (HDC) and the Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency (HCDPA). HCDPA is relatively inactive, but HDC handles most grant money that comes to the city. The Board is comprised of the Mayor, Council President, Majority and Minority Leader of the Council and a number of local business people. There are two vacancies on the Board and it is currently without an Executive Director. Peter Markou was the Exec Dir. but he was elected Greene County Treasurer in November and was required to resign. The Exec Dir duties are currently being managed by The Grant Writers, the grant writing firm that the city has on retainer.”

WGXC for Dummies (Like Me)

We’re a few weeks away from the FM launch date (February 26) of Hudson’s new community radio station, but you can hear it all online at wgxc.org. I have to confess that it took me a few tries to figure out how to do this, even though I’m an avid online radio listener.  The problem was that when you hit the web site’s “click to listen” box,  the  station’s media player doesn’t pop up automatically, at least at first. After clicking, you have to locate the Mp3 file at the bottom of  your screen–in my case it was hidden under some command buttons– and then right click on “always open folders of this type.” Live and learn.

Back in the noncyber world, if you want to help with the opening broadcast event, come to the next volunteer gathering (6:30 pm Monday February 7) at the WGXC studio in Hudson (704 Columbia Street).  Or come by any Monday evening as “there is plenty to do.”

–Scott Baldinger


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