Monday, September 20, 2010

Forty Years Ago in Hudson

The proposed demolition and replacement of the thirty-six-year-old Bliss Towers to pursue a different way of providing low-income housing in Hudson is occasion to look back forty years to the thinking and planning that created Bliss Towers in the first place. In August 1970, the Hudson Urban Renewal Agency, chaired by Arthur Koweek, published a booklet presenting the plans and goals of the redevelopment. A copy of that booklet is in the History Room of the library, and it's interesting consider the overview statement from that document:

The area encompassed by the Urban Renewal plan presents a bleak and somber portrait. The Bureau of Urban Affairs of the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal found the area "badly deteriorated in a physical, social and economic sense," and found it "the most deteriorated, obsolete and dangerous section of the City."

Approximately 286 dwelling units, housed in 176 buildings, most of them in extremely substandard condition, were found in the area. Approximately 850 persons resided in them in conditions that were deplorable. Overcrowding was a problem in many buildings, and dwelling units sometimes housed two or three families. Many units were vermin infested, had inadequate wiring, poor plumbing, inadequate heating facilities, chipping paint, leaking roofs, poor lighting, and cracked foundations. Fires had always been a problem in the area, and the rotted hulks of many burned out buildings were to be found.

Physically the area contains more than fifty acres and is bound on the North by New Street, on the South by Cherry Alley, on the West by the Hudson River and on the East by Second Street. The area was a tax problem to the City, taking more than its proportionate share of City services, such as fire, police and health protection. There was also a problem with the abandonment of buildings as well as there being a number of structures owned by the City because of tax defaults.

It was therefore not surprising that this area was designated as the City's first Urban Renewal Project and that this decision was greeted with support by both the area's residents and the citizenry in general.
Some of the things said about the Urban Renewal Area before redevelopment could be said of the same area today--forty years later.

In her book The Battle for Gotham, Roberta Brandes Gratz talks about two kinds of change: regeneration and replacement. What happened in the Urban Renewal Area forty years ago was replacement, and for the same area, we're talking about replacement again. In contrast, in a comparable area on the south side of the city--which was also, according to evidence discovered, in the sights of the Urban Renewal Agency--regeneration is happening. On the south side, private investment has rescued many buildings that were once in woeful disrepair, and property values--as well as tax assessments--have increased significantly. One of the most disturbing things about the current plan for replacing Bliss Towers is the possibility of demolishing--in addition to the high-rise and low-rise buildings that comprise Bliss Towers--a number of examples of Hudson's authentic vernacular architecture, further diminishing the possibility that change through regeneration, which has occurred and continues to occur throughout the rest of the city, could happen in this part of Hudson.


  1. Through the eyes of a young man who had just spent a month living in Colonial Williamsburg, VA - and a lifetime of interest in architecture of the valley - the view of the proposed demolition site was truly heartbreaking.

  2. Its quite scary our public leaders continue their repugnant half-century fascination with demolition. To think we've learned so little after we've lost so much. Yet, the intelligent and well reasoned among us, still call for the bulldozers as a solution to our ills.