“I’d love to be the mayor of this town,” an acquaintance from the city, an architect on his first trip here, once told me. “It would be really fun.” I never saw him in these parts again but immediately recognized the bug: There’s definitely something about Hudson that brings out the urban designer/enlightened bureaucrat in a person, even in those who only stay for a day. What’s exciting about the town for those who think about these things is that it’s all here — preserved, reclaimed, and alive — but not yet all “there,” impeded as it is by visible examples of civic stasis and inertia, like the snow banks in front of the shops on Warren Street.
Feeling somewhat snowed in myself, I’ve been thinking about these kinds of city planning issues, and now, channeling my inner Baron Haussmann, will wade into an area covered by bloggers such as Hudson Urbanism‘s Matthew Fredericks (an architect, urban designer, and published author) and Gossips of Rivertown‘s Carole Osterink (so expert in and committed to the subject that she could easily teach it at MIT).
Woody Allen once said that relationships were like sharks; they needed to keep moving forward or they die. This is something that also holds true about towns. Here are a few of my ideas to keep the shark moving.
Start a Hudson Redevelopment Corporation
This is inspired by two different kinds of governmental initiatives: Robert F Kennedy’s Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, one of the first in the nation to emphasize preservation and good design, and the endeavors of towns such as Pittsfield, Mass., which have focused on culture as a prime engine of economic development, assisting in endevours such as the renovation of an old vaudeville theater for the Barrington Stage company. The purpose of this agency, a joint public and private enterprise, would be to raise money and target strategic places for appropriate and expedited development, chosen for the maximum positive effect to the local economy. Here are some of the reasonably scaled things that it could get going, once it’s up and running:
Restoration of the Seventh Street Park
Only the most radical tea partier would say that parks are not the government’s responsibility, and this centrally located one is, in its present state, badly in need of attention. Even in these times of drastic cutbacks, it’s hard to believe that financing couldn’t be found to bring it back to its former glory. (Or, in lieu of that, what if we all got together and pulled out some ungainly fences and shrubs?–under proper supervision, of course.)
The Opera House Auditorium
Due to the valiant efforts of the folks at the Hudson Opera House, Warren Street’s most noteworthy building has been terrifically restored; now the city should jump in and do what it can to get the theater at it its heart back into full use. Let’s just sit back for a moment and consider what life would be like if this grand space was finally renovated and brought back to life — as a venue for shows like Next to Normal or Spring Awakening or even more modestly, as a Town Hall–like concert/lecture hall for a Hudson Film Festival, a live episode of A Prairie Home Companion, or a performance by the Juilliard String Quartet?
Finding My Bliss (Tower)
There has been a lot of thinking (most of it unofficial) about what to do with this ungainly relic of 70s urban renewal, including even keeping and renovating it, which is my least favorite. It seems that if anything will be done at all, it will be demolition of the building and replacement with town houses, perhaps like the ones at Crosswinds; hardly the worst outcome but not exactly inspiring. My idea: clear the lot and use it to relocate endangered historic (or even merely quaint) houses currently stranded on the busy highways of Columbia County, restoring them (or sell them to be restored) for affordable housing , i.e. not as museum pieces but with some feeling and respect for the past (no aluminum siding allowed). This could weave a genuine neighborhood fabric back into the eviscerated Second Ward, tie the block back into the already existing housing stock on State Street and to the town as a whole, save some worthy buildings around the county, and recycle instead of build from scratch. (The fact that it might all look really good in the end isn’t something to sneeze at either.) Call it the Genuine Old New Urbanism. Pictured below is one of the orphaned buildings that could be moved to the site.— Scott Baldinger