Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Battle for Gotham . . . and Hudson

A couple weekends ago, Roberta Gratz was at the Hudson Opera House to talk about her new book, The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. Her book is about the clashing visions of Jane Jacobs, who valued the existing fabric of the city and believed it should be nurtured, and Robert Moses, who believed in tearing things down and starting over. In her comments, Gratz held the policies of Robert Moses responsible for the "torn-apart, fallen city of the 1970s." She also observed that "the most successful neighborhoods [in New York City today] are those Moses did not eviscerate; the most troubled are those he did."

Gratz, who is great fan of our city and featured Hudson in her previous book Cities Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown, noted that Hudson, like New York City, suffered from the Moses approach. She made the point that you can look at the housing projects in Hudson and figure out which year they were built and which HUD program funded them. Funding determined what we got. This is relevant to the conversation about Bliss Towers, for it seems we may once again be allowing federal funding to determine our city's future.

Gratz made some other points that have relevance to the decision about Bliss Towers. One of the presenters at the April meeting about Bliss Towers spoke of "de-densifying." On this topic, Gratz stated that "densification not de-densification is what revives cities." The stated goal of whatever is done with Bliss Towers is to make the project greener and more energy efficient. On the subject of "green," Gratz made the point that "the greenest building is the one already standing."


  1. Gratz is an expert. The problem in Hudson, in my experience, is that we have politicians pretending to be experts; rather, they are expert at following the money. I am not very optimistic at the moment about our chances to "do good" with this Bliss Tower thing. --peter

  2. Traditionally that is what HUDson Government has done, follwing the HUD money - and indeed it is evident in the gaping holes and projects from the 60's-90's. Sadly, in spite of all the effort, not much has changed.

  3. As I was listening to Roberta's talk, I was reminded less of Hudson's main street or housing debates and more of the current draft Waterfront plan, which is all too Moses-like.

    Robert Moses loved to try to slam highways and crosstown expressways and overpasses and the like through neighborhoods and habitats where such development had no business, all in the name of "progress."

    Putting a heavy haul road through the South Bay (and all but permanently ensconcing noisy, dusty, disruptive activity along the Waterfront) is very much in the Moses vein, and is being pushed with a lot of the same specious reasoning and top-down thinking as Westway et al.

    Jane Jacobs, on the other hand, was in favor of (and in some cases invented) principles which set a sound basis for organic, largely unplanned growth -- ones which protected neighborhoods, respected residents' preferences, and allowed diverse, responsive business and housing to flourish.

    The public meetings (and hundreds and hundreds of comments) that have been received about the LWRP are in the Jacobs mode. People have called for a framework which encourages a mix of compatible uses while protecting against discordant ones (e.g. gravel loading, massive barges and truck traffic) which detract from recreational, conservation, commercial, and other mutually-supportive activities.

    Yet the draft plan ignores that input and privileges the tenuous "rights" of Holcim over those of the thousands of people who have much stronger rights of access and enjoyment at the River. The City has all the tools it needs to enact a good plan that respects this community consensus, and leads to public acceptance and implementation of a better LWRP -- if it chooses to take up those tools, in the spirit of Jacobs not Moses.

  4. Great point, Sam. Speaking of bottom up planning, wouldn't this be an appropriate time to seriously revisit the renderings David Deutsch had Teddy Cruz put together for the City of Hudson? Their was at least two design charrettes held in the planning stages of that process - and frankly Teddy Cruz is one of the most interesting architects/urbanists thinking about community housing right now. If we're attached to the idea of TNT'ing Bliss, perhaps we could at least come up with something elegant and intelligent to put in its place. The current designs are shockingly unimaginative. Insulting really.

  5. I still think that we have to get a political system that cultivates -- I'd settle for "allows" -- something imaginative. Am I being overly depressive or is the Hudson political climate as oppressive as ever?