Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Considering Grant Applications

Last night, at a special meeting, the Common Council authorized the mayor to submit two grant applications: a CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) application for $600,000 for "sewer separation activities" on North Front Street at the western end of Columbia and State streets, and a CFA (Consolidated Funding Application) for the "refurbishment" of Seventh Street Park, a.k.a. the Public Square. John Mason reported on the discussion preceding the vote on the CDBG application in today's Register-Star: "City seeks to separate, replace old sewer main lines." Gossips will focus on the application for a $250,000 grant for Seventh Street Park.

Many people would like to see the Public Square "edited" and returned to the elegant simplicity of its original design, which dates from 1878. From what little was revealed at the special meeting, that is not what is being proposed. 

For the past almost three years, landscape architect Cathryn Dwyre, who has a Master of Landscape Architecture degree from the University of Pennsylvania (James Corner, who designed the High Line in New York City, chaired the department), is a visiting associate professor at Pratt Institute, and lives in Hudson, has been working pro bono on an analysis of the park, speaking with business owners and residents in the area to understand the current uses of the park and to develop ideas for better programming for the park. This analysis has informed a conceptual design, which will be presented to the public on Friday, June 13, at 6 p.m., at 1 North Front Street.

Some elements of the conceptual design that will accompany the grant application were mentioned last night. They include: making use of the "triangle"--the part of the park west of the railroad tracks, which was once suggested as the possible site for a dog park--as a separate space; creating spaces in the park for unique activities; introducing a whole system of native plantings (Dwyre pointed out that the trees now in the park are considered invasive species and have been outlawed in neighboring states); using topographic elements to provide "ways for children to inhabit the landscape." 

Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward) observed that the proposal was "not necessarily a restoration of the park," which he described as a "graceful walking park." When he asked if this was a "rethinking of the park," the answer was yes.

Dwyre observed that the original design for the park did not accommodate the division of the park by the railroad. It pretended that the train wasn't there. The new design would acknowledge the presence of the railroad tracks and Hudson's past--shaped by the railroads and 19th-century industry. (It is believed that Elihu Gifford used his influence to bring the route of the Boston and Albany Railroad through the Public Square right to the door of the Gifford Foundry at the confluence of State and Columbia streets.) 

With any discussion of Seventh Street Park and its current and future uses, the temptation is irresistible to include this video, made back in 1993 and filmed in great part in Seventh Street Park. Sam Pratt was the first to discover the video a couple of years ago, and it can still be viewed on YouTube.

A third grant application originally to be considered last night was withdrawn at the last minute. That application was for $250,000 for "accessibility and entrance improvements" at Promenade Hill. Like the application for Seventh Street Park, it was a CFA, but instead of being in the category of Parks, as the Seventh Street Park application was, it was in the category of Historic Preservation. 

Last night, Bill Roehr, of TGW Consultants, explained that the Promenade Hill application was being postponed for two reasons: (1) after studying the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and Guidelines for the Treatment of Cultural Landscapes (Promenade Hill has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1970), Dragana Zoric, a colleague of Dwyre's at Pratt who is working pro bono on the plan for Promenade Hill, realized that there was, in Roehr's words, a "conflict between the goal of access and historic landscape treatment" which would require a more extensive master plan to resolve; (2) the timing of the application did not allow for public participation on the Promenade Hill project.

Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), who has been advocating for a handicapped ramp at Promenade Hill and at whose insistence DPW superintendent Rob Perry came up with a plan for a ramp that could be constructed by DPW workers, objected. "You want to restore the whole park, but there are people who can't get into the park." Garriga wanted to know why a temporary ramp could not be constructed. Council president Don Moore pointed out that erecting a temporary ramp would be expensive. (Perry's estimated cost for materials was just under $20,000.) Roehr explained that having a plan that incorporates handicapped access into a master design for restoring the Promenade Hill would make the project more competitive for grant funding. Unsatisfied, Garriga concluded, "I don't understand why it's so hard."


Thanks to Lisa Durfee who discovered the post card image of Seventh Street Park with the trolley car and to Byrne Fone for the other historic images from the collection assembled for his book Historic Hudson: An Architectural Portrait        


  1. $600K more? Three years ago taxpayers poured an extra $5 million down the city's sewer system, to separate storm water, on the same street.

    Not even Atlas could hold back water, falling from the hospital hill, if he were standing on front and Columbia.

    Just another grant grab like the first $5million upgrade...

  2. Regarding the Promenade, I'm trying to find other examples of city parks in the US which are technically owned by their city councils.

    I can't find a single example, but I'll keep trying.

    In the UK however, many city councils own property, land, and parks. Elected city councillors designate "Property Officers" for various managements tasks.

    The City of Hudson had mayors since the 1780s, but on March 9, 1795, the proprietors specified that "the Parade ... be granted to the Common Council forever." This wording was not an oversight.

    It's possible - even likely - that the technical ownership of our Promenade is itself a remnant of 18th century colonial thinking in America.

    Certainly the mall itself is a surviving artifact of 18th century visual perception, which any perceptual psychologist or historian will attest evolves or mutates with the times.

    Residents of Hudson who care about history should guard this multifaceted treasure with greater care.

    Perhaps we should remind ourselves of the Promenade's true ownership by adding the following phrase to the upcoming Resolution:

    "On behalf of the Common Council, we invite the Mayor to ..."