What is it about Hudson that inspires so many would- be urban planners; worst of all, would-be urban planners who want to make an “original statement?” One of these is being seriously discussed; the other is actually under construction as we speak. The plans for the 7th Street Park, for instance, proffered generously and sincerely by landscape architect Cathryn Dwyre, are reminiscent — not of the wonderful High Line in New York City, as was perhaps intended– but of the Robert Moses alterations to Bryant Park, Madison Square and Union Square in New York City in the 1930s and 40s (changes that were happily corrected in extensive renovations many decades later). Dwyre’s plans counter-intuitively throw out the footprint of the original as well as the idea of re-installing the central fountain statue of Venus (still in storage in a Department of Public Works garage) that once stood in the spot of a newer, unadorned and quite ungainly replacement. Dwyre has offered an asymmetrical plan that is disruptive of the simple but essential purpose of a central town square — to impose a moment of tranquil visual order and delight a midst the commercial hubbub (and visual blight) surrounding it. Dwyre has called the original 1878 layout a “default park design,” and has packed her new one with so many varying features –other than the original fountain — that tranquility will be the last thing attained should these plans somehow come to fruition.
Less noticed but far more bewildering perhaps is the “linear park” –i.e. promenade — being constructed from the already existing concrete vest-pocket park across the street from the Opera House, up a steep staircase on Columbia Street, and all the way to State Street, where it ends abutting a vacant apartment building owned by Housing Resources on one side and a heavily vinyl-sided house on the other. A Baron Haussmann marvel of urban grandiosity this is not.(All of the photographs here are of the linear park, not of the 7th Street Park.) Made up of concrete paving and various concrete structural elements (and two nice wood benches), the walkway, the last element of a grand housing scheme designed by Teddy Cruz and financed by the PARC Foundation’s David Deutsch, is a surrealist vision of urban sterility and purposelessness. It’s difficult to imagine that, once completed, it will become popular with neighborhood parents and their children, except for those who routinely carry around Bactine, Band-Aids and strongly protective head gear; more likely it will be favored by drug dealers and prostitutes not wanting to be spotted by police who patrol 3rd Street in cars.
Mistakes like these were hallmarks of urban planning from the worst days of Moses through the 1970s; one can only wonder why and how this phenomena has reappeared in Hudson, which offers block after block of examples of how well things used to be done long ago, “by default,” in towns and cities all across the nation. –Scott Baldinger